Although the lazy stoner myth lives on, a new study out of Cambridge University reveals that cannabis users are no less motivated than non-users. What’s more, cannabis users actually scored slightly higher than non-users on tests measuring something called anhedonia. In other words, people who used cannabis seemed more able to enjoy their daily lives than non-cannabis-using participants.
Clichés about cannabis use are hard to dispel. For example, some people believe the myth that cannabis users are lazy or unmotivated. But a new study by researchers at Cambridge University reveals that cannabis users are no less motivated than non-users.
Interestingly, the study reveals that stoners are actually more likely to enjoy themselves in everyday situations, such as seeing friends and family.
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Details of the Study that Busts the Myth
Researchers in the United Kingdom recruited 274 adolescent and adult cannabis users to examine whether the substance leads to higher levels of apathy and anhedonia – a loss of interest or pleasure in receiving rewards. Each of these individuals reported using cannabis at least once a week in the past three months, with the average participant using cannabis four times a week. The team then matched this group with a cohort of non-users of the same age and gender.
Participants completed questionnaires measuring anhedonia, asking each person to rate statements such as “I would like to be with my family or close friends.” The study authors also measured levels of apathy by asking each person if they were interested in learning new things or if they were motivated to complete a task.
Cannabis Users Enjoy Life More
The results reveal that cannabis users actually scored slightly higher than non-users on tests measuring anhedonia. In other words, people who use cannabis seem more able to enjoy themselves.
In addition, the study found no difference in apathy scores between users and non-users. The team also found no discernible link between the frequency of cannabis use and levels of apathy or anhedonia, despite what the myth might say.
“We were surprised to find that there was really very little difference between cannabis users and non-users in terms of lack of motivation or enjoyment, even among those who used cannabis daily. This goes against the stereotypical image we see on TV and in movies,” says Martine Skumlien, a doctoral student in Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry, in a university release.
Overall, teens score higher than adults on anhedonia and apathy, whether or not they use cannabis.
“There has been a lot of concern that cannabis use in adolescence may lead to worse outcomes than cannabis use in adulthood. But our study, one of the first to directly compare adolescents and adults who use cannabis, suggests that adolescents are no more vulnerable than adults to the adverse effects of cannabis on motivation, the experience of pleasure, or the brain’s response to reward,” adds Dr. Will Lawn of King’s College London.
“In fact, it appears that cannabis has no association – or at most weak associations – with these outcomes in general. However, we need studies that examine these associations over a longer period of time to confirm these findings.”
The Lazy Stoner Myth “Is Itself a Lazy Stereotype.”
The team also conducted a behavioral experiment with half of the volunteers, assessing both the physical effort and enjoyment of each person after receiving rewards.
Participants could press buttons to earn points, which they could redeem for candy to take home. The test had three difficulty levels, with the most difficulty requiring participants to press buttons faster. The player could also accept or decline the offer and receive points for the completed tasks.
The group then had to estimate how much they wanted each available reward, including hearing their favorite song, a piece of chocolate, or a dollar coin. Finally, after receiving each reward, the group rated how much they enjoyed it on a scale ranging from “don’t like at all” to “like intensely.”
The results again dispelled the myth about stoners, showing no difference between cannabis users and non-users or between different age groups.
“We are so used to seeing ‘lazy stoners’ on our screens that we don’t stop to wonder if they are an accurate representation of cannabis users. Our work implies that this is 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 use cannabis,” says Skumlien.
“Unfair assumptions can be stigmatizing and get in the way of harm reduction messages. We need to be honest and upfront about what the harmful consequences of drug use are and are not.”
Brain Scans Show the Same Thing
Based on previous studies on the impact of cannabis on the brain, the team then looked at fMRI scans to see if brain activity changed while a person was smoking cannabis. They focused on the ventral striatum, a key region of the brain’s reward system.
These scans revealed no significant changes in this brain region, suggesting that cannabis use does not change how people respond to rewards and pleasure, despite what the myth might have us believe.
“Our data indicate that cannabis use does not appear to affect motivation in recreational users. Our study participants included users who used cannabis an average of four days per week and were not more likely to lack motivation. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that higher levels of use, as seen in some people with cannabis use disorders, have an effect,” concludes Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry.
“Until we have future research studies that follow adolescent users from the onset of use to early adulthood and combine measures of motivation and brain imaging, we cannot determine with certainty that regular cannabis use does not have a negative impact on motivation and brain development.”
The findings are published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.
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