For more than 50 years, the common wisdom has been that continual cannabis use makes people lazy and apathetic. This baseless stereotype was first popularized in the 1930s by a federal bureaucrat trying to raise funding for what would become the DEA. In the early ’70s, President Nixon demonized cannabis to disrupt Vietnam War protestors and heroin to attack the Black community. The question remains, does cannabis use make a person unmotivated?
Peer-reviewed evidence exists for and against” Cannabis amotivational syndrome” – a hypothesis that suggests regular cannabis use leads to apathy or less engagement in goal-directed behavior. The lack of conclusive proof has left the medical community unswayed in either direction. Motivation is difficult to measure scientifically.
Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Psychological Association, has recently published a new study that disputes the cannabis-induced amotivational syndrome theory. Cannabis use disorder is defined as “A problematic pattern of cannabis use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” The report found no evidence in support of the theory.
The endocannabinoid is connected to reward saliency and motivation. The mesolimbic systems control motivational salience, reinforcement learning, fear, and motivation. Previous research suggested that cannabis consumption, from bong rips to smoking a joint, harmed one or both of these systems, creating a “lazy stoner.”
Scientists conducting the study observed 47 college-aged participants. Twenty-five participants are regular cannabis consumers, 17 of whom matched the “cannabis use disorder” criteria. The remaining 22 participants were the non-cannabis control group.
There is no empirical measure of how much cannabis is “too much.” But consumption essentially is considered a disorder when work, school, and other daily functions suffer.
The participants were asked to complete an Effort Expenditure for Rewards Task. Researchers noted improvements to ADHD symptoms and other conditions that could cause delays in goal-directed behavior but found no significant problems.
Cannabis proponents argue against cannabis being categorized with drugs and alcohol, pointing out that some pharmaceutical drugs may cause more pronounced motivation and reward saliency disorders. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac or Paxil used for treating depression have been blamed for exacerbating amotivational syndrome.
The study concluded that college students using cannabis were more likely to expend effort to obtain a reward. Researchers determined that the results don’t support the amotivational syndrome hypotheses. They concluded that “Future research with a larger sample is required to evaluate possible associations between cannabis use and patterns of real-world effortful behavior over time.”