After decades of being exposed to abundant depictions of cannabis users as lazy, somewhat stupid and dishevelled young hippies, it’s not surprising that many people instinctively have a go-to mental image of what a stoner looks like. They tend to be underachievers who lack motivation and drive, right?
But maybe this stereotype is the only real lazy thing around here. I mean, does cannabis really make us less productive, or is this an outdated representation of what being a stoner really means? We’re looking at the most recent evidence to (hopefully) bust this stoner stereotype, once and for all.
Where does this stereotype come from?
It is well-known that cannabis has the potential to cause sedation and increase appetite. Let’s face it, what stoner among us has not settled in for an evening on the sofa with a takeaway pizza every once in a while? Of course, cannabis users know that this is far from the only way to enjoy cannabis.
Still, looking at it in this way, it can be easy to understand where the ‘lazy stoner’ stereotype stems from. But the question is whether this short-lived effect actually has a long-term impact on our overall productivity. And the evidence may be on our side.
Cannabis and the ‘Amotivational Syndrome’ Hypothesis
The term ‘amotivational syndrome’ was first coined by researcher DE Smith in 1968 to refer to the supposed diminished desire to work or to compete among people who frequently use cannabis. This hypothesis has since been pedalled by lawmakers and mainstream media despite consistent evidence to the contrary.
Little support for the ‘Amotivation’ hypothesis
The authors of a 2022 study set out to put the old ‘cannabis kills motivation’ hypothesis to the test – and came up with some interesting results. The basis of the study was to examine the relationship between cannabis use and effort-related decision making in a sample of college students.
Far from cannabis-using students showing less motivation than their non-using counterparts, their results indicated that cannabis use was actually associated with a higher likelihood of participating in tasks that required more effort when “reward magnitude, reward probability and expected predicted value of reward” were high. In fact, when cannabis use disorder and the number of cannabis days in the past month were factored into the equation, the likelihood of participants selecting a high-effort, high-reward task was even greater!
Overall, the researchers concluded that “these results do not support the amotivational syndrome hypothesis” which is routinely attached to cannabis use. And further findings may support this.
A 2006 review of the evidence
A 2006 review, aptly titled: ‘Cannabis, motivation, and life satisfaction…’ may precede the above-mentioned study, but it also serves up some interesting early findings when it comes to the supposed relationship between cannabis use and productivity.
Among the most notable conclusions highlighted include the finding that, cannabis users often earn higher wages than non-smokers, are no more likely to be fired from their job and are more likely to pursue a graduate degree. Where cannabis use was found to be more prevalent in under-achieving students, the researchers note that “Most heavy users earned lower grades prior to their marijuana consumption, suggesting cannabis could not have caused the poorer performance.”
Unsurprisingly, the authors of this review again conclude that there is little evidence to support the widely held belief that cannabis saps motivation. They even sign off their review by stating that “dropping references to amotivational syndrome may have considerable benefit.”
Cannabis and creativity
It’s no secret that cannabis has long been a favourite among musicians and artists. Some might even argue that it is for this reason – or more specifically, for its association with Black Jazz musicians – that cannabis was shunned by lawmakers in the US.
Yet, many of the most well-known and successful artists over the last century have been far from coy about their relationship with cannabis. Take Louis Armstrong, for example – one of the most talented jazz musicians of all time and lifelong cannabis advocate. Armstrong is credited with saying of cannabis, “it’s a thousand times better than whiskey – it’s an assistant – a friend.”
The relationship between cannabis and creativity is largely accepted in the pop culture world. However, there is little solid evidence to suggest that it has an impact on creativity in one way or another. As one study put it, cannabis may, however, “boost joviality, making you think that both your own ideas and other people’s ideas are more creative than they really are.”
Still, it’s hard to believe that musicians like Louis Armstrong, Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, and Jimi Hendrix (just to name a few) ever felt that cannabis had a negative effect on their productivity.
What about physical motivation?
In a recent article, we set out to find out if cannabis use could be used as an aid to exercise. Of course, this is far from a commonly accepted use for cannabis, but our findings were somewhat surprising.
For example, data from a 2019 survey of over 600 cannabis users showed that the majority (81.7%) would endorse using cannabis concurrently with exercise. In fact, many respondents revealed that using cannabis before their workout made their workout more enjoyable and – to top it off – cannabis users actually spent more time per week exercising than non-users!
Taking all of this into consideration, we think it’s probably safe to say that we can consider this stereotype well and truly busted. Over the decades that research has been conducted in this area, there is little evidence to suggest that cannabis use is associated with reduced productivity.
Unfortunately, the lazy stoner stereotype will likely continue to do the rounds in the mainstream media for a long time to come.