The recent study challenges the prevalent stereotypes surrounding cannabis usersElsa Olofsson/unsplash

Cannabis use is unlikely to have an impact on the ability of adults or adolescents to find enjoyment and motivation, according to a new study

In an attempt to combat stereotypes around drug use, researchers at the University of Cambridge and other leading universities have shown that regular cannabis users are no more likely than non-users to exhibit a lack of motivation for rewards, and no less likely to experience pleasure from receiving rewards.

The study challenges the prevalent stereotypes surrounding cannabis users, including the label of ‘stoner’, which is associated with laziness and an apathetic approach to life.

The 274 participants were put into pairs, with each pair comprising one person who had used cannabis regularly in the previous three months, and one who had not. Direct comparisons were made based on responses to a questionnaire, where participants were rated on their ability to feel joy.

The results challenged preconceptions about cannabis users; there was no significant difference in responses between the two groups, and users even showed lower levels of apathy compared to non-users.

'We need to be honest and frank about what are and are not the harmful consequences of drug use'

The researchers also investigated responses to both the prospect and receipt of a reward, confirming that there was no difference in effort displayed by either group. These results are contrary to popular beliefs that portray cannabis users as lazy or lacking in motivation. 

PhD candidate Martine Skumlien, who was involved in conducting the study, commented: “Unfair assumptions can be stigmatising and could get in the way of messages around harm reduction. We need to be honest and frank about what are and are not the harmful consequences of drug use.”

Cannabis is one of the most widely used controlled substances, behind only alcohol and tobacco. According to a 2021 survey by NHS Digital Lifestyles, nearly one in six 15-year-olds in the UK had used cannabis in the previous 12 months, and in the US this figure is estimated to be significantly higher.

The study could mark the start of a more active discussion around cannabis use and its regulation, potentially challenging the disparity with alcohol in its legal status as a recreational drug.

Further questions may also be raised about the viability of prescribing medications derived from cannabis; even now, very little is known about potential benefits and side-effects. Certainly, medicinal cannabis presents a two-sided coin, and lessons learned from the opioid epidemic will be at the forefront of concerns about inducting cannabis into common medical practice.

While further research needs to be done to determine the long-term effects of cannabis use on brain development, this study suggests that our preconceptions around cannabis users may, in fact, be misconceptions.