Friday, 22 May 2009

Myth - Cannabis Makes You Lazy and Unmotivated

Myth - Cannabis Makes You Lazy and Unmotivated

You know it, your friends know it, the government advertises it, the media publishes it, the religious preach it, politicians promise it, comedians satirise it, current affairs hosts warn about it, moral crusaders lie about it and some drug treatment centres teach it ... if you smoke too much dope, you loose interest in life and can’t be motivated anymore to do the things you once loved doing. It has a name - Amotivational Syndrome.

Amotivational Syndrome: A pattern of behaviour characterised by a lack of motivation, energy and initiative 

You know, the stoner on the couch eating Burger Rings and watching TV instead of going to football training. That guy who used to play cricket so well but stopped turning up for games after half a season of below average performances. That girl who stopped going out with her best friends and now stays at home on Saturday nights. It's simple ... smoking dope makes you lazy and less motivated.

Australian National Drugs Campaign


Marijuana (Cannabis)

Potential problems: Mood swings, memory impairment, weight gain, chronic bronchitis, increased risk of respiratory diseases associated with smoking including cancer, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, paranoid thinking, decreased motivation, interference with reproductive function, learning difficulties, psychological dependence, suicidal thoughts, risk of psychosis and psychotic symptoms. Marijuana serves as a barrier against self-awareness and may interfere with a young person’s development including possible interference with reproductive function.

This common problem is one of the most identifiable traits of a pothead. We see it regularly on TV and at the movies where scruffy looking dropouts are portrayed as speaking slowly and often lounging around on a couch saying “dude” and other stoner type comments. We hear about it in every anti-cannabis commercial. Like the kid who can’t keep up at football practice and sits at home alone smoking weed whilst his friends go out and have fun. We are even reminded regularly by politicians.

Research on frequent, long-term and heavy use of cannabis shows that it can have serious psychological, physiological and social effects. People using cannabis under these circumstances can have problems relating to lack of motivation and may no longer engage in employment or social activities.

The Hon. John Della Bosca - Legislative Council 


Many clients experienced depression. They also attributed things such as problems with concentration and memory, isolating themselves from others and lack of motivation, to their cannabis use. 

The Hon. Peter Foss - WA Parliament. Quoting from a report by Dr Jan Copeland and Dr Wendy Swift

Do we all know a slacker when we see one? I’m sure we all know someone with Amotivational Syndrome or at least know of someone who knows someone who is affected this way. In 2006, a report titled, National Drugs Campaign: Evaluation of Phase Two, showed that 86%-92% of teenagers were clearly aware that cannabis made you lazy and lethargic.

The broad campaign messages retained by young people appeared to be in line with the campaign objectives. Message recall focused on the negative consequences of using illegal drugs and abstaining from drug use. Most (87%) were able to identify at least one of the three drugs targeted by the campaign and message take-out relevant to each drug reflected content differences between the three ‘Youth’ television commercials. Specifically:

• Mental health problems (including ‘makes you lazy and tired’) were associated with marijuana 

• Aggression, other mental health effects and unknown composition were associated with speed, while 

• Depression, unknown composition and perceptions of being a dangerous drug were associated with ecstasy

-National Drugs Campaign: Evaluation of Phase Two

Even our friends at Drug Free Australia (DFA) have just released a report into the harms of cannabis and had this to say about Amotivational Syndrome:

Thirdly, cannabis use can induce amotivational syndrome, a mental state characterised by apathy, an inability to carry out plans, deal with frustration or concentrate for any length of time (Cohen, 1982). While equivocal, amotivational syndrome strikes a chord in that it aptly describes the ‘personality’ of a chronic cannabis smoker and is supported by numerous studies (Newcomb & Bentler, 1988; Tunving, 1987; Cohen, 1982). Musty & Kaback (1995) maintain that amotivational syndrome exists and is a manifestation of depression.

-Cannabis – Suicide, Schizophrenia And Other Ill-Effects - Drug Free Australia (DFA) -(March 2009)

Just a Myth

Amotivational Syndrome is a myth. But a myth believed by most of the public. It goes to show how powerful and misleading that persistent, anti-drug propaganda can really be. And it should make you angry. Angry at the lies and deceit that have been pushed down your throat from so called trusted people. The evidence that it doesn’t exist has been readily available for decades but governments, the media and anti-drug zealots have been happy to play along with this lie. What else do they lie about?

Only a few months ago, Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps was pictured smoking cannabis(right) which is weird considering pot smokers were supposed to be lazy and unmotivated. Holy cow, if anyone is a symbol of motivation, it is Phelps who has 14 Olympic gold medals and 7 world records for swimming. Add to this list a few US presidents, some Nobel prize winners and the countless entertainers who tour constantly. So who says dope smokers are unmotivated?

The few reports that support Amotivational Syndrome are usually commissioned by the US government in a bid to support their zero tolerance drug polices or by other dubious anti-drug zealots. Like the research referenced by DFA above, they set out to demonise cannabis and voila! Amotivational Syndrome is everywhere. It’s a convenient excuse maintained by those who are willingly to lie for their cause which is standard practice in the murky world of anti-drug propaganda. The vast majority of respectable research debunks Amotivational Syndrome as not having any evidence to back it up. Some of the reports that claim it might exist, also state that it is extremely rare. A far cry from being one of the main symptoms of cannabis use.

In this study, participants who used cannabis seven days a week demonstrated no difference from non-cannabis users on indices of motivation. These findings refute hypothesized associations between heavy cannabis use and low motivation.

-University Of Southern California - Department Of Psychology

What does the Australian government have to say about lazy stoners? They seem to be a bit muddled up, caught between lying to the public and supplying scientific research. The National Drugs Campaign: Evaluation of Phase Two report emphasises that cannabis causes laziness and a lack of motivation but the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care who administer our drug policy acknowledge that Amotivational Syndrome is dodgy, albeit reluctantly:

The evidence for an amotivational syndrome among adults is, at best, equivocal. The positive evidence largely consists of case histories, and observational reports. The small number of controlled field and laboratory studies have not found compelling evidence for such a syndrome, although their evidential value is limited by the small sample sizes and limited sociodemographic characteristics of the field studies, by the short periods of drug use, and the youthful good health and minimal demands made of the volunteers observed in the laboratory studies. It nonetheless is reasonable to conclude that if there is such a syndrome, it is a relatively rare occurrence, even among heavy, chronic cannabis users.

-Illicit Drug Use In Australia: Epidemiology, Use Patterns And Associated Harm - Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care

This report may give a more conclusive answer.

There is no compelling evidence for an amotivational syndrome among chronic cannabis users. Some heavy users do complain of impaired motivation but this pattern of behaviour is better explained as a symptom of chronic intoxication among persons who are cannabis dependent.

-The Health And Psychological Effects Of Cannabis Use - The Commonwealth Government 

Not convinced? Maybe we should look to our own Australian Medical Association(AMA) for a more recent explanation.

Consumption of large quantities of cannabis on almost every day of the week is likely to lead to the neglect of some other important priorities such as relationships, parenting, careers and community responsibilities. However there is currently a lack of robust evidence for an amotivational syndrome (characterized by a loss of motivation, energy and initiative) associated with the use of cannabis.

-Australian Medical Association 

Some of those who like to push the idea of cannabis making users lazy and stupid, try to blame limited research techniques as to why Amotivational Syndrome has not been proven. If the sample size or limited sociodemographic characteristics are reasons to doubt existing research, it might be wise to look at more recent research that aims to end the debate. Ironically, it’s the US government’s own National Institutes of Health that finally clears up the myth.

Cannabis, Motivation, And Life Satisfaction In An Internet Sample

Although little evidence supports cannabis-induced amotivational syndrome, sources continue to assert that the drug saps motivation [1], which may guide current prohibitions. Few studies report low motivation in chronic users; another reveals that they have higher subjective wellbeing. To assess differences in motivation and subjective wellbeing, we used a large sample (N = 487) and strict definitions of cannabis use (7 days/week) and abstinence (never). Standard statistical techniques showed no differences. Robust statistical methods controlling for heteroscedasticity, non-normality and extreme values found no differences in motivation but a small difference in subjective wellbeing. Medical users of cannabis reporting health problems tended to account for a significant portion of subjective wellbeing differences, suggesting that illness decreased wellbeing. All p-values were above p = .05. Thus, daily use of cannabis does not impair motivation. Its impact on subjective wellbeing is small and may actually reflect lower wellbeing due to medical symptoms rather than actual consumption of the plant.

The link between cannabis use and low motivation is a source of extensive debate. Anecdotal information describes the cannabis user as listless and incapable. Subsets of cannabis users demonstrating low motivation receive considerable attention in the media and among proponents of marijuana prohibition. Decades ago, researchers adopted the phrase "amotivational" to describe lethargic cannabis users. Amotivational syndrome ranks among key problems associated with the drug, and strengthens policy arguments regarding the public harm that the drug introduces. The US Department of Health and Human Services warns parents that youth cannabis use may result in amotivational symptoms such as an apathetic approach to life, fatigue, and poor academic and work performance. Other studies suggest that cannabis induces general apathy and an inability to progress through life successfully. Yet empirical research on the effects of cannabis on users' motivation suggests a low incidence of these negative outcomes and numerous alternative explanations for their appearance.

-U.S. National Institutes of Health

To top it all off, the report makes an important observation. Something that all lying, anti-drug zealots should take notice of. The report states that misleading information will more likely have a negative effect on preventing substance abuse. That old scenario arises again where if the target group thinks that they are being lied to about one issue, then what stops the messenger lying about other issues.

The absence of any link between motivation and cannabis use also has important implications for preventing substance abuse. Research informs parents and children that cannabis saps motivation. It is possible that individuals' own experiences and the experiences of users they know may belie this information, leading them to question the veracity of other material presented in these programs. Thus, emphasizing a cannabis-induced amotivational syndrome in drug prevention does not have empirical support and could harm the credibility of our efforts at prevention. Honest information about the negative consequences of cannabis has the potential to improve the prevention of drug problems. Dropping references to amotivational syndrome may have considerable benefit.

-U.S. National Institutes of Health

When is it going to stop? When are those who are responsible for educating the public about the dangers of drug use going to be held accountable? Pushing myths and spreading misinformation has been shown over and over to be dangerous especially to young people, our children. How does the government get away with it? Why are shifty, myopic organisations like DFA funded by the tax payers only to lie to us? Why are the experts routinely ignored? Doesn’t the health of the public have any bearing on this? Is political expediency allowed to override the truth that these myths are actually harming our children? 

Thus, emphasizing a cannabis-induced amotivational syndrome in drug prevention does not have empirical support and could harm the credibility of our efforts at prevention

-U.S. National Institutes of Health

This goes to the very core of a government endorsed process that has been proven to be counter-productive in preventing drug use. The fact is, these misleading claims are forcing our kids to question other government warnings. Warnings that should be taken seriously but with the constant exaggeration and lies that don’t reflect the real world, why would they believe them? I’m sure these people have read the classic story about The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

The two big question now are: Will they stop lying about Amotivational Syndrome? And what else are they lying about?


Paul said...

“They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you're high, you can do everything you normally do, just as well. You just realize that it's not worth the fucking effort. There is a difference.” Bill Hicks

I got sick of hearing all the usual bollocks about the dangers of marijuana, so last year I outed myself as a smoker at work, to family, to most people I know. It broke some of the myths because here was real life evidence. Many others outed themselves too. I believe we need to foster more honesty and present more real life experiences - maybe one day this will help people see that the biggest risk involved with marijuana is the ridiculous laws that exist to prohibit it.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Paul
Brave move! I imagine you got some some snickers and strange looks.

It looks like the US of all places is going to be more accepting of cannabis use than Australia. It's strange considering the US federal government still won't fund needle exchanges, the influence of anti-drug groups in the US and Australia has the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in Sydney.

Anonymous said...

See I quit about 2 years ago, smoking at least a half ounce of mids an ounce of killer in a week, for 6 years before that about half to a third of consumption. Well I used to play the guitar as a bad-ass,people that hated metal would applaud and want more and more. I had so much motivation towards music, played guitars 5-8 hours a day for years...I can still play almost as well but I even sold my setup rig so I could pay rent for another month. If I am high I can play stuff which I have only heard even years ago, by memory I will play note for note, Bach Beethoven, Dimmu Borgir, Iron Maiden, etc. If I play sober it is amusing and not even talented in the same degree. Student and a rock star difference. When I was high I would feel the music somehow my body would just jam with it. Now I cannot even rock out to my favorite artists I used to know all the lyrics to and notes so I could sing the song or hum the notes, solos too. I have noticed the decline in motivation and even got panic attacks for a while after I quit, truly nothing appeals to me anymore but the next high or getting messed up, my life had been destroyed for over eight years now, without friends, girlfriends. Hell I lost my job recently because the panic attacks were passing me out with severe dehydration and heart palpitations. My concern is you focus on the short term effect only, and no 7 day test smoking even 300 pounds would verify that, would need to be a survey of years or decades to prove, not as simple as most ailments. May be just me becuase I do have depression and it runs in my family, but I also saw my cousin go through the same thing. Genious to who gives a fuc...just saying not everything in this world is provable, what created god, or the big (what created the dust particles to bang?)bang...that one question disproves anything we know from the start.