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Does Weed Make You Lazy? The Full (Scientific) Story 

 

We’ve heard the lazy stoner stereotype a thousand times before. Old weed ads from the 1990s depicted deflated teens who couldn’t even move off the couch. We all heard warnings that “if you smoke weed, you’ll never contribute to society.” D.A.R.E made it their life’s goal to demonize the cannabis plant.  

 

Flash forward to 2024. Weed is legal in 40 states, and the DEA just approved the plant’s rescheduling from Schedule I to Schedule III—a monumental achievement and proof that cannabis has medical value. 

 

We already know alcohol makes you lethargic, yet cannabis is more closely associated with laziness. Is there actual science to support this claim? Obviously we’re no strangers to the idea of indica—“in da couch”—but that’s more of a joke than a serious claim on the mental health of cannabis users. Plus, that would lead you to believe a sativa strain would be motivating.

 

This post breaks down recent scientific studies from as recent as this year to answer the question once and for all; does smoking cannabis actually make you lazy? 

 

The history of the “lazy stoner” stereotype

The “lazy stoner” stereotype has a well-documented history influenced by cultural, political, and media narratives. Here’s a closer look:

 

Early legislation and racial stereotyping

The association of cannabis with laziness began to solidify with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 in the United States, largely propelled by racially charged narratives led by figures like Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger’s infamous quotes reflect the racial prejudice of that era: 

 

“Marihuana [marijuana] is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters.” — Harry Anslinger

 

This campaign linked cannabis use predominantly to minority groups, framing them as lazy and morally corrupt. It also marked the beginning of a large-scale movement to depict cannabis consumption as evil. 

 

Media influence: “Reefer Madness”

The 1936 propaganda film “Reefer Madness” dramatically shaped public perceptions by depicting marijuana users as mentally unstable and socially inept. The film’s portrayal fed into the stereotype that cannabis users were lazy and unmotivated, a theme that persisted in similar media portrayals throughout the 20th century.

 

Counterculture of the 1960s

During the 1960s, marijuana became associated with the counterculture movement. Figures like Timothy Leary encouraged American youth to “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” a sentiment that mainstream society interpreted as promoting laziness and a dropout culture among marijuana users.

 

Early scientific challenges to the stigma

As early as the late 1970s, scientists were already beginning to challenge the notion that weed made people lazy. 

 

Studies by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) helped shift that perspective. 

 

Led by notable figures like Dr. Robert S. Stephens, Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Lester Grinspoon, there were a number of studies that concluded cannabis was nowhere near as bad as believed.  

 

The UCLA studies contributed significantly to the understanding of cannabis, particularly challenging some of the negative stereotypes associated with its use:

 

  • No clear link to Amotivational Syndrome: One of the key findings was questioning the idea that marijuana use leads to an “amotivational syndrome,” where users lose interest in goals and productivity.
  • Different effects based on usage patterns: The research indicated that the effects of marijuana on motivation might vary significantly based on the frequency and quantity of use, as well as individual differences in personality and life context.

 

The 2000s turn the tide

Following the pioneering studies of the late 1970s and early 1980s at institutions like UCLA, the discourse around cannabis and its effects continued to evolve. Another significant study that further challenged the “lazy stoner” stereotype came from a longitudinal study published in 2002 by the University of Southern California (USC).

 

This study aimed to investigate the long-term effects of marijuana on psychological, social, and health outcomes over several decades.

 

The research followed participants from adolescence into adulthood, providing a rich, longitudinal perspective on how habitual marijuana use affected various aspects of life, including career achievements, social relationships, and overall life satisfaction.

 

Key findings:

 

  • There was no significant impact on personal achievement: The study found that, after controlling for various factors like education level and socioeconomic status, the long-term use of cannabis did not significantly impact personal achievement or motivation.
  • Outcomes were diverse: It highlighted that the effects of cannabis are highly individual, with outcomes varying significantly among users, challenging the idea of a universally detrimental impact.

 

Modern science furthers disproves negative cannabis stereotypes

2024 has been a turning point in the cannabis revolution. We know more than ever about weed, meaning we can finally put the lazy stoner stereotype to rest. 

 

Cannabis does not lead to “amotivation”

A 2022 study called Anhedonia, Apathy, Pleasure, and Effort-Based Decision-Making in Adult and Adolescent Cannabis Users and Controls was published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

 

Here are the results from the study: 

 

This study concluded that cannabis use at a frequency of 3 to 4 d/wk is not associated with apathy, effort-based decision-making for reward, reward wanting, or reward liking in adults or adolescents. Cannabis users had lower anhedonia than controls, albeit at a small effect size. These findings are not consistent with the hypothesis that non-acute cannabis use is associated with amotivation. 

 

Here’s what those results mean: 

 

This study found that using medical marijuana (including the popular cannabinoids THC and CBD + terpenes) 3 to 4 days a week does not lead to increased apathy (lack of interest or concern), problems in making decisions about efforts for rewards, or changes in how much people want or enjoy rewards, whether in adults or teenagers. 

 

Overall, these results suggest that using cannabis does not lead to a lack of motivation, contradicting the common belief that cannabis users are generally unmotivated compared to non-users. Originally, many believed that cannabis and its impact on dopamine levels meant users would constantly chase dopamine production, leading to a steep falloff once they quit. This is disproven as everyone from first time consumers regular cannabis consumers to long time potheads see no link to amotivation.

 

Toronto breaks ground with most recent study

A new study from the University of Toronto, titled Chronic Cannabis Use in Everyday Life: Emotional, Motivational, and Self-Regulatory Effects of Frequently Getting High, was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in April 2024.

 

The study employed an experience sampling method where chronic medical cannabis users (260 participants) recorded their emotions, motivation, and self-regulation multiple times a day over a week, totaling 3,701 observations. 

 

Findings from the study revealed that while getting high increased positive emotions and slightly reduced negative ones, it had minimal impact on motivation or willingness to exert effort, challenging the stereotype that cannabis users are lazy or unmotivated. 

 

The study also found that chronic cannabis use did not significantly affect the overall motivation of users. Specifically, being high was not associated with a decrease in motivation to pursue goals, whether motivated by internal or external reasons. 

 

Interestingly, more frequent users actually reported higher levels of motivation compared to less frequent users. This contradicts the common stereotype of cannabis users being less motivated or apathetic.

 

Takeaway: Based on a number of scientific studies and findings, it has become abundantly clear that weed does not make people lazy. In fact, there is more evidence that points to cannabis leading to higher levels of motivation than the contrary. 

 

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