The clichés about cannabis use never die. For some, cannabis users are necessarily lazy or unmotivated. A new study by scientists from the University of Cambridge shows that cannabis users are no less motivated than non-users.
Interestingly, the study shows that smokers are actually more likely to have fun in everyday situations, such as visiting friends or family.
Researchers in the UK recruited 274 teens and adults who use cannabis to find out if the substance leads to higher levels of apathy and anhedonia — a loss of interest or pleasure in receiving rewards. Each of these people reported using cannabis at least once a week in the last three months, with the average participant using cannabis four times a week. The team then matched this group with a cohort of non-consumers of the same age and gender.
Participants completed questionnaires to measure 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 show that cannabis users actually performed slightly better than non-users on tests measuring anhedonia. In other words, people who use cannabis appear to be more able to enjoy themselves.
In addition, the study found no difference in apathy scores between consumers and non-consumers. The team also found no apparent relationship between frequency of cannabis use and levels of apathy or anhedonia.
“We were surprised to find that there are indeed very few differences between cannabis users and non-users in terms of lack of motivation or lack of pleasure, even among those who use cannabis every day. days. This goes against the stereotypical image we see on television and in films,” Martin Skumlien, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge, said in a statement from the university.
In general, adolescents tend to score higher on anhedonia and apathy than adults, whether they use cannabis or not.
“There was a lot of concern that cannabis use as a teenager could lead to worse outcomes than cannabis use as an adult. But our study, one of the first to directly compare teens and adults who use cannabis, suggests that teens are no more vulnerable than adults to the adverse effects of cannabis on motivation, pleasure experience, or brain response to reward,” adds Dr. Will Lone from King’s College London.
“In fact, it appears that cannabis has no connection – or at best, weak associations – with these results overall. However, we need studies that examine these associations over a long period of time to confirm these findings. »
The perception of a lazy stoner “is itself a lazy stereotype”
The team also conducted a behavioral experiment with half of the volunteers, assessing both the exercise and enjoyment of each person after receiving a reward.
Participants had the ability to press buttons to earn points which they could redeem for candy to take home. The test had three levels of difficulty, the most difficult of which required participants to press buttons more quickly. The player could also accept or decline the offer and receive points for completed tasks.
The group then had to rate how much they wanted each available reward, including hearing their favorite song, a piece of chocolate, or a one dollar coin. After receiving each award, the group rated their enjoyment of it on a scale from “not at all” to “very much”.
The results showed no difference between users and non-users of cannabis or between different age groups.
“We’re so used to seeing ‘lazy junkies’ on our screens that we wonder if they accurately represent cannabis users. Our work implies that this is itself a stereotype of laziness, and that people who use cannabis are no more likely to be unmotivated or lazy than people who are not,” Skumlien says.
“Unfair assumptions can stigmatize and interfere with harm reduction messages. We must be honest and open about what are and are not harmful effects of drug use. »
Brain scan shows the same
Building on previous studies on the effects of cannabis on the brain, the team then examined fMRI scans to see if brain activity changed when a person smoked cannabis. They focused on the ventral striatum, a key area of the brain’s reward system.
These scans showed no noticeable changes in this area of the brain, suggesting that cannabis use does not affect how people respond to reward and pleasure.
“Our data show that cannabis use does not appear to affect the motivation of recreational users. Our study participants included users who used cannabis on average four days per week and were not more motivated. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that higher consumption, such as that seen in some people with cannabis use disorders, has an effect,” concludes Professor Barbara Sahakyan from the Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge University.
“Until we have future studies that track adolescent drug users from initiation of use to early adulthood, and that combine motivation measurements and brain imaging, we cannot say with certainty that regular cannabis use will not have a negative impact on motivation and brain development. . »
The results are published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.