No scientific basis for ‘Lazy Stoner’ stereotype, say researchers

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According to a new study, cannabis users are no less motivated or unable to enjoy life’s pleasures than non-users. Juno/Stocksy
  • People who use cannabis are often stereotyped as “lazy” or “unmotivated”.
  • New research from the University of Cambridge shows that cannabis users are no less likely to be unmotivated or unable to enjoy life’s pleasures than non-users.
  • Still, research on the motivation levels of cannabis users is mixed, and experts say longer-term studies are still needed.

Cannabis users are often portrayed as lazy and unmotivated in movies and on TV, content to sit on the couch getting high and munching on junk food.

But a new study by researchers in the UK challenges this stereotype of the ‘lazy stoner’.

The researchers found that adults and adolescents who used cannabis several times a week were no less motivated or unable to enjoy life’s pleasures, compared to people who did not use it regularly.

Moreover, compared to non-consumers, cannabis users were just as willing to put effort into obtaining a reward, and they showed similar levels of desire or appreciation for rewards.

“We were surprised to see that there was really very little difference between cannabis users and non-consumers in terms of lack of motivation or lack of pleasure, even among those who used cannabis every day” , said the author of the study. Martine Skumliendoctoral student in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge in the UK, said in a Press release.

The results were recently published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

For the study, the researchers recruited 274 adolescents and adults. About half had used cannabis at least once a week in the past three months, with an average of 4 days a week.

The researchers compared these people to non-cannabis users of the same age and sex. Non-users had used cannabis or tobacco at least once, but had used cannabis less than 10 times in their lifetime and not at all in the past month.

Participants completed a questionnaire that measured their inability to feel pleasure, known as anhedonia. This asked them to evaluate statements such as “I would like to be with my family or close friends”.

They also completed another questionnaire that measured their lack of interest or worry, or apathy. This included things like their likelihood of completing a job or their interest in learning new things.

Cannabis users scored slightly lower on the anhedonia questionnaire, compared to nonusers. This suggests that people who use cannabis several times a week may have an easier time having fun — or that people who tend to have fun are more likely to use cannabis.

However, the researchers point out that the difference in anhedonia scores between the two groups was small, so it may not be “clinically relevant”.

On the apathy questionnaire, there was no significant difference between cannabis users and non-users. Similarly, the researchers did not find a link between the frequency of cannabis use and the level of anhedonia or apathy.

Moreover, there was no difference on a test of willingness to put in effort for a reward, or on a test measuring how much a person wanted and liked several types of rewards.

The researchers also found that adolescents – both cannabis users and non-users – scored higher than adults in questionnaires for anhedonia and apathy. However, cannabis use by adolescents did not increase this difference.

“[This] 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,” study author Does the lawnPhD, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at King’s College London in the UK, said in the statement.

In 2019, more than a third of American high school students said they had ever used cannabis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionnot(VSDVS). More than a fifth said they had used cannabis in the past 30 days.

Previous research on the link between cannabis use and motivation has been mixed.

An older 2005 study found lower levels of motivation in adolescent cannabis users compared to a control group of adolescents with little history of drug use. On the other hand, a recent 2019 studywhich compared regular and light cannabis users, showed no link between regular cannabis use and lower motivation.

Research also varies in terms of who assesses a cannabis user’s level of motivation. In the current study, participants rated their own motivation using the Apathy Questionnaire.

Another one 2018 study asked people who knew a cannabis user well to rate their motivation. More frequent cannabis users were more likely to be classified as unmotivated, compared to infrequent users or non-users.

This could be because cannabis users are actually unmotivated, or the “lazy smoker” stereotype that affects how people view those who use cannabis.

This portrayal of cannabis users is entrenched in our cultural psyche, with many recent portrayals in film and television. But some suggest it could have come from as far back as the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

One of the strengths of the new study is that the researchers included a relatively large number of participants and matched cannabis users with non-users of the same age and sex. They also used several reward and motivation measures that could be affected by cannabis use.

However, further research is needed to fully understand the impact cannabis use may have on motivation, such as studies focusing on people who use cannabis daily or almost daily, including high-level cannabis users. functioning who may have a cannabis use disorder.

Additionally, the lingering effects of cannabis use on motivation may also differ from what happens shortly after use.

“It is important to distinguish between acute and residual effects of cannabis use on motivated behavior,” said Anita CservenkaPhD, Associate Professor in the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University.

For example, a study 2016 found that cannabis can affect motivation shortly after consumption. People who had recently used cannabis were less likely to choose high-effort tasks on a reward test than non-users.

Cservenka agreed that longer-term studies are still needed, including those that examine the effect of products containing high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.

Cannabis users may have the same levels of motivation and enjoyment as non-consumers, according to new research, but it’s possible the long-standing ‘lazy smoker’ stereotype may also be impacting study results. on cannabis.

For example, the authors of the new study said in the paper that participants’ awareness of how others see them could make cannabis users try to “appear more motivated” when taking part in a psychological study. .

More rigorous, long-term research is still needed to confirm the researchers’ theory that people who use cannabis may not be less motivated than those who don’t. This could involve measuring people’s motivation and apathy before they start using cannabis to see if this changes with cannabis use.

“[This will] help determine how pre-existing individual differences in motivation relate to cannabis use and whether initiation into frequent cannabis use alters this behavior,” Cservenka said.

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