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Cannabis Consumers Don’t Fit the Lazy Stoner Stereotype, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Sep 02, 2022   
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Cannabis consumers are no lazier than their sober peers, according to a new study.

Published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, the study used data from an existing survey of 147 adolescent and adult cannabis consumers and 127 non-users.

Both the control group and the cannabis-consuming group had similar apathy scores.

The control group did have higher levels of anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure) than the cannabis consuming group. In other words, the cannabis consumers were more capable of enjoying themselves.

The researchers say their findings could help dispel the “myth” of the lazy stoner stereotype.

Stoned by not slothful

To get their findings, the researchers – who were from University College London (UCL), the University of Cambridge, and King’s College London – used existing data from UCL’s CannTeen study, which studied how cannabis affects adolescents and adults in different ways.

The 274 participants included 76 adolescent cannabis users and 71 adult cannabis users, and 63 adolescent non-users and 64 adult non-users. The adolescents were aged between 16 and 17, the adults were aged between 26 and 29.

The cannabis users were only classed as such if they claimed to use cannabis 1-7 days per week, on average, over three months.

All participants had completed questionnaires to assess their levels of apathy and anhedonia. The latter questionnaire asked participants whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I would enjoy seeing other people’s smiling faces” and “I would get pleasure from helping others.”

After comparing the results, the researchers found that the cannabis consumers, both adolescent and adult, had significantly lower levels of anhedonia than the participants who didn’t use the drug. Neither group differed when it came to apathy scores, however.

“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,” Martine Skumlien, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement.

“This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies.”

Skumlien and her colleagues also observed that, as a group unto themselves, the adolescents had significantly higher levels of both apathy and anhedonia than the adults, regardless of whether they used cannabis or not.

“There’s been a lot of concern that cannabis use in adolescence might lead to worse outcomes than cannabis use during adulthood,” Dr. Will Lawn, a lecturer in psychology at King’s College London, said in a statement.

“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.”

In their paper, the researchers hypothesize that cannabis’ null effect on teenage motivation could be because the drug doesn't chronically compromise the brain’s reward system, which may have matured enough by age 16 to be resilient to disruption. Alternatively, they posit, the impact of adolescent cannabis use on reward processing may be delayed and not seen until later in life. Further studies, they say, will need to probe this null association until a consensus can be made.

Just over half of the participants also completed a physical task designed to measure their levels of motivation. They were asked to press buttons to win points, which could later be exchanged for chocolate and sweets. These button-tasks had three levels of difficulty with increasing rewards that the participants could either accept or reject. The researchers associated more acceptances with more motivation.

Again, the researchers found no differences between the scores of the cannabis-consuming participants and the sober participants.

“Our evidence indicates that cannabis use does not appear to have an effect on motivation for recreational users,” Barbara Sahakian, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement.

“The participants in our study included users who took cannabis on average four days a week and they were no more likely to lack motivation. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that greater use, as seen in some people with cannabis-use disorder, has an effect.”


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