Prevalence, Demographics, Use Patterns, and Health Indicators of U.S. Cannabis Consumers
by Chane Leigh
Stoner stigma and stereotypes are not just discriminatory—they are also outdated and are now being rendered invalid. Cannabis consumers, whatever their reason for consumption, are subject to being stereotyped as “lazy stoners.” Fortunately, a recent study found that cannabis consumers are no more likely to lack motivation compared to those who do not consume cannabis.
This new research debunked the stereotypes of cannabis consumers often portrayed in media by finding that there is no scientific basis to support the stereotypes. In fact, the researchers specifically found that there is no association between lack of motivation, or laziness, by stating that “these findings are not consistent with the hypothesis that non-acute cannabis use is associated with amotivation.”
The researchers, Martine Skumlien et al., explain that cannabis consumers and non-consumers do not differ in terms of motivation for rewards, pleasure taken from rewards, or the brain’s response when seeking rewards. These findings come as a result of the research team’s effort to investigate “1) the association between non-acute cannabis use and apathy, anhedonia, pleasure, and effort-based decision-making for reward, and (2) whether these relationships were moderated by age-group.”
In order to better understand what the researchers wanted to investigate, let’s lay out the aspects being assessed. First, apathy refers to a lack of motivation to do anything, or just not caring about what’s happening around oneself—which is synonymous with laziness. Second, anhedonia refers to the inability to feel pleasure or the loss of the ability to feel joy.
Lastly, pleasure and effort-based decision-making refers to how one makes an active choice based on the integration of action and goal values. One can think of the latter as a decision made involving action, based on whether the effort expended will be worth it in the sense of receiving a reward, such as joy or even something more materialistic.
The researchers included 274 adolescent and adult cannabis consumers who had consumed cannabis weekly in the past three months with an average of four days a week of consumption. The team then paired this group with a control group with matching ages and genders. The team measured apathy with the Apathy Evaluation Scale, measured anhedonia with the Snaith-Hamilton Pleasure Scale, measured effort-based decision-making with the Physical Effort task, and measured subjective wanting and liking of rewards with the Real Reward Pleasure task.
These measurement approaches included questionnaires in which the participants rated statements and characteristics such as whether they enjoy being with family or whether they are interested in learning new things. All of their responses were recorded and evaluated in order to form their findings and long-awaited scientific support that would debunk stoner stereotypes and stigma.
An example of one of the tasks was a button-pressing activity where the participants would have the option to either accept or reject completing the task in exchange for a reward. This activity had three levels and matching rewards. The participants had to press buttons in order to accumulate points, which were exchanged for rewards—but rewards only occurred if the participant chose to accept and complete the task.
The researchers found that those who consume cannabis scored lower on anhedonia measures but explain that it was only slightly lower and does not indicate anything significant. As for the other aspects, the researchers found no difference. The researchers note that they also did not find any link between the frequency of cannabis consumption and either apathy or anhedonia.
Skumlien, one of the researchers and a Ph.D. psychiatry candidate from the University of Cambridge, stated, “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. This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies.”
Another researcher, Dr. Will Lawn, 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. However, we need studies that look for these associations over a long period of time to confirm these findings.”
Lastly, Skumlien adds, “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. 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. Unfair assumptions can be stigmatizing and could get in the way of messages around harm reduction. We need to be honest and frank about what are and are not the harmful consequences of drug use.”
The findings of research like this are critical to helping cannabis find its place in the world. However, it is important to note that the study’s sample size is significantly small, which may have implications when being used as a representative of the entire cannabis-consuming population. Still, the prevailing evidence is promising—and many cannabis consumers would vouch that the findings are accurate.
Forbes explains that the origin of this cannabis-related stereotype is not clear but supports the findings of this research by stating the stereotype is “inaccurate” and describing the stereotype as one of the “hoariest notions.” In fact, another study with a larger sample size found that cannabis consumers reported more physical activity than non-consumers.
Forbes adds that notions of cannabis consumers as lazy people who eat junk and sleep all day are the result of propaganda and are “hogwash deserving of the dustbin, and not much else”—and we couldn’t agree more.
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