Yes, smoking weed appears to reduce motivation, but the effects seem to last only as long as you still have marijuana in your system. Whether there is actually a cannabis amotivational syndrome is still a subject of debate, however.
There is a small percentage of people who become addicted to marijuana, which is outlined in the DSM-V (the psychiatry and psychology field’s diagnostic Bible). Cannabis use disorder is one of many substance abuse disorders. For a therapist to diagnose you with cannabis use disorder, you have to fit a certain number of established criteria. There are no such criteria for the theoretical cannabis amotivational syndrome.
Is Cannabis Amotivational Syndrome Real?
Is cannabis amotivational syndrome a condition separate from cannabis use disorder?
This is a semantic classification for scholars and clinicians to argue over. For now, no, it isn’t a recognized medical disorder in its own right.
But from a practical standpoint, research shows that marijuana use can, indeed, reduce your motivation to make money, perform tasks or assert yourself in general. Most people who use marijuana, however, don’t seem to develop these problems.
In researching the motivation question, scientists do what they can to control for demographic info, like race, sex and income and whether the study subjects use other drugs like tobacco or alcohol. Still, no study offers a perfect measure of pot’s effect on motivation.
The survey-based studies, for instance, rely on self-reporting of marijuana consumption, which means there’s no data on dose or strain of marijuana. Conversely, dosage and cannabis strain are controlled in lab studies, but laboratory studies of human behavior are notoriously hard to reproduce and often draw from a narrow population of young, affluent and largely white people (university undergrad students). This tends to skew the results.
What Does the Research Say About Cannabis Amotivational Syndrome?
The research is nearly unanimous in showing that people who were currently high had reduced motivation. This held for survey studies in which subjects filled out standardized questionnaires and lab studies that measured behavior of participants. These effects also seemed to last for a couple weeks after quitting, at least in heavy cannabis users.
Multiple studies on young adults, adolescents, and other populations show heavy pot users tend to score lower than their non-smoking or occasional smoking study counterparts. These results held even when controlling for alcohol and tobacco use.
Things like “self efficacy” or “motivation” are among those squishy traits in a person that are hard to measure objectively. Heart rates, body temperature and blood pressure — or even a mood disorder like depression — are all easy to to measure compared to a trait like motivation. Psychology does offers generally accepted models and assessment questionnaires to measure motivation levels. While these models contain flaws, they are at least consistent.
Researchers were really able to control for different variables in a study on rhesus monkeys, however.
They had the monkey’s toke up every day for a year and measured their performance on a number of tasks designed to assess their motivation for reward. The stoner monkeys were more likely to chill and let their straight-edge colleagues in the control group scrounge for fruit.
The good news? The effects went away after a few weeks of abstinence (just like with weed’s impact on memory). The reformed stoner monkeys returned to normal motivation levels compared with the control group, according to the study published in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
“These data could be interpreted to mean that during periods of chronic use, (marijuana) produces an amotivational-like syndrome in rhesus monkeys and that this syndrome disappears only several weeks to months after the last exposure,” the study states.
Cannabis Amotivational Syndrome References:
“Effects of Cannabis Use on Human Behavior, Including Cognition, Motivation, and Psychosis: A Review.”
Volkow et al
“Performance of heavy marijuana-smoking adolescents on a laboratory measure of motivation”
Lane, SD et al