Several pervading stereotypes about cannabis users have been investigated by a new study, including the notion that they are "lazy" and lack motivation – and the results make these stereotypes go up in a puff of smoke.
Participants who used cannabis three to four times a week showed no differences compared to non-users in terms of motivation, also scoring better in terms of their ability to feel pleasure. They also showed no reduced want of rewards, nor reduced willingness to put in the effort to gain those rewards.
Scientists from University College London; the University of Cambridge; and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London looked at teenagers (aged 16-17 years) and adults (26-29 years) who use cannabis regularly and compared them to controls who do not use the drug.
In a survey, the 274 participants were asked questions to assess their levels of apathy, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), and effort-based decision-making for rewards using pre-established scales. They were also set tests, such as button pressing tasks with chocolate and sweet rewards, to measure motivation, with participants rating their rewards to assess their levels of enjoyment.
"Cannabis use has historically been linked with amotivation, which is reflected in prevalent, pejorative 'lazy stoner' stereotypes," the authors wrote in their paper. "In this study, we counter this cliché by showing that a relatively large group of adult and adolescent cannabis users and controls did not differ on several measures of reward and motivation."
“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," Lead author, PhD candidate Martine Skumlien from University College London said in a statement.
"This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies.”
As well as putting a stereotype to the test, the authors suggest it might allay some fears around cannabis consumption by younger users.
“There’s been a lot of concern that cannabis use in adolescence might lead to worse outcomes than cannabis use during 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 harmful effects of cannabis on motivation, the experience of pleasure, or the brain’s response to reward," Co-author Dr Will Lawn from University College London's Psychology & Language Sciences said.
“In fact, it seems cannabis may have no link – or at most only weak associations – with these outcomes in general. However, we need studies that look for these associations over a long period of time to confirm these findings.”
The study was published in Neuropsychopharmacology.