Forget the stereotypical stoner! Cannabis users are NOT lazy and apathetic – and are no less likely to be motivated than non-users, study finds

  • Scientists surveyed 274 cannabis users and compared results to non-users 
  • They found no difference in apathy and anhedonia (loss of interest in rewards)
  • Based on findings, they say the ‘lazy stoner’ stereotype doesn’t hold up 

From Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad to The Dude in The Big Lebowski, stereotypical ‘stoners’ are often portrayed as lazy and apathetic.

But a new study suggests that the stereotype isn’t actually true.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say that cannabis users are no less likely to be motivated or to enjoy life’s pleasures than non-users.

‘We’re so used to seeing “lazy stoners” on our screens that we don’t stop to ask whether they’re an accurate representation of cannabis users,’ said Martine Skumlien, an author of the study.

‘Our work implies that this is in itself a lazy stereotype, and that people who use cannabis are no more likely to lack motivation or be lazier than people who don’t.’

From Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad to The Dude in The Big Lebowski (pictured), stereotypical ‘stoners’ are often portrayed as lazy and apathetic

What are the UK’s cannabis laws and what are the risks of using it?

Cannabis is an illegal Class B drug in the UK, meaning possession could result in a five year prison sentence and those who supply the drug face up to 14 years in jail.

However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy. 

But smoking it can also lead to feelings of panic, anxiety or paranoia.

Scientific studies have shown the drug can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress, but heavy use may worsen depression in the long term by reducing the brain’s ability to let go of bad memories.

It can also contribute to mental health problems among people who already have them, or increase users’ risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, according to research.

Marijuana can be prescribed for medical uses in more than half of US states, where it is used to combat anxiety, aggression and sleeping problems. Researchers are also looking into whether it could help people with autism, eczema or psoriasis.

Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is claimed to have cancer-fighting properties, and one 52 year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal bowel and stomach cancer by taking the drug. 

With cannabis being the third most commonly used controlled substance around the world – after alcohol and nicotine – the researchers set out to understand whether the drug affects levels of apathy and anhedonia (loss of interest in, or pleasure from rewards).

The team recruited 274 young cannabis users who had used cannabis at least weekly over the past three months, and matched them with non-users of the same age and gender.

All participants completed questionnaires to measure their levels of anhedonia and apathy.

The results revealed that cannabis users scored slightly lower than non-users on anhedonia – meaning they appeared better able to enjoy themselves.

Meanwhile, there was no significant difference when it came to apathy.

‘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,’ Ms Skumlien said.

‘This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies.’

Delving deeper into the results, the researchers found that adolescents scored higher than adults on anhedonia and apathy in both user and non-user groups, but cannabis use did not augment this difference.

Dr Will Lawn, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: ‘There’s been a lot of concern that cannabis use in adolescence might lead to worse outcomes than cannabis use during adulthood.

‘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 fact, it seems cannabis may have no link – or at most only weak associations – with these outcomes in general.’

In a follow-up study, just over half the participants carried out behavioural tasks.

The first task assessed their physical effort, and saw the participants given the option to press buttons to win points, which were later exchanged for chocolate.

The task had three levels of difficulty, with more difficult trials requiring faster button pressing.

On each level, participants could choose to accept or reject the offer.

A second task was designed to assess how much pleasure they received from rewards.

Participants were told to estimate how much they wanted to receive each of three rewards – 30 seconds of their favourite song, one chocolate, and a £1 coin – on a scale from ‘do not want at all’ to ‘intensely want’.

They then received each reward and were asked how pleasurable they found them.

Again, the results revealed no difference between cannabis users and non-users on either task.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Our evidence indicates that cannabis use does not appear to have an effect on motivation for recreational users.

‘The participants in our study included users who took cannabis daily 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.’

CANNABIS: THE FACTS

Cannabis is an illegal Class B drug in the UK, meaning possession could result in a five year prison sentence and those who supply the drug face up to 14 years in jail.

However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy. 

But smoking it can also lead to feelings of panic, anxiety or paranoia.

Scientific studies have shown the drug can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress, but heavy use may worsen depression in the long term by reducing the brain’s ability to let go of bad memories.

It can also contribute to mental health problems among people who already have them, or increase users’ risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, according to research.

Marijuana can be prescribed for medical uses in more than half of US states, where it is used to combat anxiety, aggression and sleeping problems. Researchers are also looking into whether it could help people with autism,eczema or psoriasis.

Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is claimed to have cancer-fighting properties, and one 52 year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal bowel and stomach cancer by taking the drug.

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