We have all seen stereotypical marijuana users on television and the silver screen. They are almost always depicted as lazy bums with little motivation to accomplish anything. But are such depictions accurate? Apparently not, at least according to a recently published study out of the UK.
The study, just published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, compared more than 270 adults and adolescents who used cannabis up to seven times per week over a control group of non-users. Neither group seem to be more or less apathetic than the other.
Performing Tasks for Rewards
Researchers from Cambridge University and University College London devised experiments whereby they would have both the test and control groups perform certain tasks in hopes of receiving a reward. Tasks of varying difficulty were presented to participants during four different testing sessions.
After all the testing was completed and the data crunched, it was apparent to researchers that there was no noticeable difference in motivation between the two groups. In fact, the test group demonstrated a slightly elevated ability to derive pleasure compared to the control group.
By all accounts, cannabis users are not any more lazy or unmotivated than those who don’t use. But before we all jump to conclusions, there are some considerations to think about.
A Very Limited Study
The researchers made it clear that their study was a limited one. First of all, they did not account for the different THC levels in cannabis products or the effects of cannabis use disorder. They concede that people suffering from the disorder could be less motivated.
The other thing to remember is that all the study participants were volunteers. They went into the study already motivated to participate, thereby partially negating the entire motivation question.
Finally, the study doesn’t differentiate between general motivation under normal circumstances as compared to motivation when a cannabis user is actually high. If you do not think this is important, step back and think about how people behave after they drink too much.
A casual drinker who has a beer with dinner may be just as motivated as he was before sitting down to eat. But someone who is drunk is almost certainly going to be less motivated. If we apply the same thinking to cannabis, a regular user may not lack motivation under normal circumstances. But when he’s high, his motivation might sink. And if he is high often enough, he may routinely lack motivation – just as the stereotype suggests.
Recreational vs. Medical Use
There doesn’t appear to be any distinction in the study between recreational and medical users, either. That being the case, it would be interesting to conduct the same study in two states like Colorado and Utah.
Utah is a medical-only state, according to the folks behind Salt Lake City’s Beehive Farmacy. Colorado is a fully recreational state with a companion medical program. Consumers use cannabis differently in both states. Would that have any effect on a much broader study looking at both general and specific motivation?
The researcher’s findings are noteworthy. At the very least, they show that regular cannabis users are not any less motivated in a general sense. They are not lazy stoners who spend their entire lives getting high. That’s about the only conclusions we can draw from the study.
To really understand how cannabis affects motivation, we also need to take a good look at it in relation to cannabis use disorder. Like excess alcohol consumption, excess cannabis consumption leading to a use disorder scenario could impact motivation. We will not know for sure until we look at it.