Myth: Using marijuana for a long time makes some people lose interest in school, work, relationships and other activities.
The Truth: The origins of this myth go back to the 1960s. It has been engrained in the pop culture image of a pot smoker; lazy, burned out loser. It has been a common theme in all the recent anti-pot ads. Despite evidence to the contrary concern over marijuana’s effect on motivation continues today.
The definition of motivation changes with different cultures around the world. Not everyone who is motivated reflects the stereotypical Western values of motivation: does well in school, works hard for their boss or performs in lab tests. Some of the most successful people in the world are high school drop-outs including Richard Branson, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, Wright brothers and Albert Einstein. Yet these are the criteria often used in testing of amotivational syndrome.
Clinical depression shares basically the same set of symptoms (fatigue, poor concentration, apathy). There are a sub-set of pot smokers who are self-medicating their depression. This group is far from the majority of users though. To prove cannabis as a cause of such a syndrome takes the same criteria used in the Gateway Theory Myth (Association, Temporal Antecedence and Isolation). Marijuana use must precede and correlate with amotivation to cause it. The symptoms must not have any other causes such as depression or personality. There have been several studies that try to show these criteria but they all failed.
Laboratory studies of humans and primates offer very little support for amotivational syndrome. School performance does not vary with pot consumption in college students. Employment data show no links between marijuana use and lower wages, poor work performance or job turnover. No studies show the pervasive lethargy, dysphoria, and apathy that the myth claims should appear in all heavy users. Some studies actually show that marijuana users are more likely to go on to earn a graduate degree.
- Gergen, M.K., Gergen, K.J., & Morse, S.J. (1972). Correlates of marijuana use among college students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2, 1-16