Cannabis does not make you unmotivated: study

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Cannabis consumers or ‘stoners’ are often associated with characteristics of laziness and a lack of motivation, especially in mainstream media. Think Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad or “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski.


But a new study suggests that this stereotype has no scientific basis, and that cannabis users are just as motivated as everyone else.


Published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology on Aug. 24, researchers from the University College London, the University of Cambridge and King’s College London found that cannabis has a limited or weak link with feelings of apathy or not experiencing pleasure.


“There’s been a lot of concern that cannabis use in adolescence might lead to worse outcomes than cannabis use during adulthood,” Dr. Will Lawn, one of the study’s co-authors, said in a release.


“But our study … suggests that adolescents are no more vulnerable than adults to the harmful effects of cannabis on motivation, the experience of pleasure, or the brain’s response to reward.”


According to the World Health Organization, cannabis is the third most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world, after alcohol and nicotine.


In 2013, an estimated 181.8 million people globally aged 15-64 used cannabis for non-medical purposes, according to the WHO, with the highest rates of cannabis use reported among adolescents and young adults.


The researchers wanted to investigate whether cannabis has an impact on users’ level of apathy, anhedonia (loss of interest in or pleasure from rewards) and whether it made them lazier to achieve a reward.


The team compared 274 adult and adolescent cannabis users who had used at least once a week for the past three months, with non-users of the same age and gender. 


All participants were given questionnaires that measured their degrees of apathy along with enthusiasm toward completing their work.


The study found that cannabis users appeared to be better able to enjoy themselves than non-users, ranking slightly lower on anhedonia. There was no difference between both groups’ levels of apathy.


It was also revealed that the frequency of cannabis consumption had no impact on either apathy or anhedonia.


“We were surprised to see that there was really very little difference between cannabis users and non-users when it came to lack of motivation or lack of enjoyment, even among those who used cannabis every day,” Martine Skumlien, one of the study’s co-authors said in a release.


“This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies.”


The researchers also looked into the drug’s potential impact on users’ level of physical effort towards a task. It was found that in all age groups, both users and non-users displayed the same level of effort to achieve a reward.


“We’re so used to seeing ‘lazy stoners’ on our screens that we don’t stop to ask whether they’re an accurate representation of cannabis users,” Skumlien added.


“Our work implies that this is in itself a lazy stereotype and that people who use cannabis are no more likely to lack motivation or be lazier than people who don’t.”


Further studies will be needed to completely rule out the possibility of negative impacts on users’ brains, the researchers said.

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