Chronic Pot Use Has Minimal Effect on Motivation, Study Shows

The debunking of the “lazy stoner” stereotype isn’t breaking news, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded. This new study out of the University of Toronto is just that.

We’re abundantly familiar with the stereotypes surrounding cannabis use that still prevail in today’s world, namely tropes embraced over the years in the media and among anti-reform advocates deeming that regular cannabis use makes people lazy and unproductive.

As cannabis use is becoming increasingly more common, many regular consumers will attest that this broad assumption is far from the truth, but a new study has provided further insight on how regular cannabis users tend to function after consuming. 

Ultimately, researchers found that getting high was associated with more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions in consumers, with minimal effects on motivation or objective effort willingness. They also found that frequent cannabis use had a lack of “hangover” effects.

The Changing Nature of the Cannabis Consumer

Researchers at the University of Toronto conducted the new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, in an effort to describe the effects of chronic cannabis use on emotions, motivation, effort and self-regulation in everyday life. 

The study begins by noting the increased prevalence of cannabis use today, with nearly 200 million people using it worldwide and cannabis ranking as the fourth-most-used recreational drug following caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. 

“Despite its wide use and increasing legal and societal acceptance, surprisingly little is known about its effects among habitual users in everyday life. Instead, research on cannabis tends to treat it as a drug of abuse, focused mostly on the health risks of overuse and dependence,” the study reads. “Here, we focus on what is missing, describing the everyday experience of getting high among habitual users, examining reasons they get high, its possible salutary emotional effects, and its surprising lack of costs to motivation and industriousness.”

Researchers go on to recognize that today’s cannabis users come from “all walks of life,” recognizing that most chronic cannabis users are “employed, conscientious, and have stable incomes.” Despite recent stigmatization, they also recognize that plentiful research treats cannabis as a substance involving “substantial risk,” noting that the mixed results surrounding risks of cannabis use may be the “implied goal” of much of the research: to reduce use. 

How Does Regular Cannabis Use Affect Consumers?

In an effort to get a clear picture of the effects of chronic cannabis use, the study included 3,701 observations from the daily lives of 260 recreational cannabis users. Researchers sent participants sampling surveys five times a day for seven days at random times, in which participants had up to 30 minutes to answer before the link expired.

The surveys asked participants if they currently felt high, and if not provided filler questions about cannabis cravings. If participants said they were high, the survey asked how they ingested cannabis and to select the reasons they got high. The study also utilized a modified Differential Emotions Scale to assess the extent participants felt 20 specific emotions — 10 negative and 10 positive.

Researchers also asked participants about their current levels of motivation, along with an experience sampling survey to measure levels of willpower and conscientiousness.

Overall, most participants (64%) reported feeling high, with smoking (54%), vaping (22%) and edibles (21%) as the most common methods of ingestion. The main reason driving use was liking the feeling of being high, though increasing creativity and forgetting one’s worries were also commonly reported. Many people also used cannabis to help them focus and concentrate.

Those who felt high reported feeling less fearful and stressed, compared to when they are not high. Frequent users also reported that being high increases positive emotions, awe, silliness, happiness and inspiration. However, among the cohort, those who got high “very frequently” reported more negative emotions across the board compared to those who still used frequently but not “exceptionally often” (or high on 96% of experience samples/multiple times a day).

There were mixed results surrounding conscientiousness, in that getting high “very frequently” was associated with “mostly small, yet robust reductions in people’s conscientious behaviors and traits.” Still, they note that chronic users are no less responsible or industrious than those who use cannabis less frequently.

‘Little Evidence’ of Association Between Cannabis Use, Lack of Motivation

Researchers said they found “little evidence for an association between being high and a lack of motivation among cannabis users.”

“When frequent cannabis users get high, in other words, they are no more apathetic, nor less extrinsically or intrinsically motivated to pursue their goals,” researchers said. “They are, however, slightly less motivated to do things when they are high because they would be upset with themselves if they did not do them.”

Even those who get high “very frequently,” or multiple times per day, were not less motivated than those who get high multiple times per week. In fact, researchers note that they were sometimes more motivated.

The study also touched on the “weed hangover” effect, finding that being high on the last completed survey of the day was not related to emotions on the first completed survey of the next day. There were also no significant effects of feeling high on the last survey on current levels of motivation or effort willingness, both within and across days.

“Other than a small reduction in people doing things to avoid feeling upset with themselves (introjected motivation), when chronic users got high, they were no more amotivated, no less motivated for extrinsic or intrinsic reasons, and no less willing to objectively push themselves,” researchers conclude, “Likewise, people who get high very frequently (e.g., daily) are not less motivated dispositionally than those who also get high frequently, but relatively less frequently (e.g., weekly); if anything, they are more motivated (at least for external and introjected reasons).”

The study notes that this research acts as a “real advance” over past work because it uses experience sampling, a micro-longitudinal design and large and diverse sample. Though, because participants were recruited online in forums that relate to cannabis, the results may not generalize to novice or less frequent users. 

Researchers also note that the study did not compare cannabis users to nonusers, or even frequent to infrequent users, so the study can only speak to the experience of chronic cannabis users.

“Cannabis is currently having a moment, and we expect it to only become more popular as laws and attitudes shift,” researchers say in closing. “We hope the research community will rise to the challenge of these societal shifts by attendant shifts in research philosophy that has been too quick to pathologize use.”

1 comment
  1. Some important notes not shared by this story, which are incredibly important…. Please don’t cherry pick the feel good stuff and ignore the responsible reporting…
    All subjects were over the age of 21.
    You only used 3 or more times per week, there is a huge difference between multiple uses per day and three times per week.
    “Our data allow us to also describe the emotional profile of very frequent users relative to less frequent (but sill frequent) ones. Here, the emotional picture looks much less positive. Compared with those who get high less frequently, people who get high very frequently report greater negative emotions across the board, for example, feeling more disgust, scorn, fear, and embarrassment”
    ” When chronic users get high, they report being more impulsive (lower self-control), less organized and neat (orderliness), more willing to lie to get their way (lower virtue), and less willing to follow societal rules (traditionalism).”
    “Our participants were recruited from online forums that cater to cannabis enthusiasts and growers, meaning our results might not generalize to novice or to less frequent users. Not only were our participants very heavy users, but they also needed to show diligence and care to complete an effortful study protocol over 7 days. It is possible, therefore, that our sample was quite conscientious and not representative of the broader population of chronic cannabis users, meaning that effects might be very different in broader samples. Furthermore, as our study did not compare cannabis users to nonusers, or even frequent to infrequent users, our analyses can only speak to the experience of chronic cannabis use.”

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