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Stoners Are Only Lazy When They're High, Study Finds

Despite the rampant "lazy stoner" stereotype, a new study suggests that people who regularly get high are no more lethargic than their non-smoking counterparts—unless they happen to be stoned.
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It's not hard to imagine where the archetype of the exceedingly inactive pothead came from. Admittedly, sitting down and doing absolutely nothing becomes a really cool event when cannabis is involved. However, in the wake of states around the country choosing to legalize the drug to varying degrees—and the question of federal legalization becoming more pressing—the melting-girl-on-a-couch from that anti-drug PSA has renewed political implications.


The DEA continues to decline to reschedule the drug that is currently in the same category as heroin on the basis that there's not enough evidence to prove that cannabis has medicinal value, and also because, they say, there's not enough research on its harms. "At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy," the then DEA chief told VICE News. "Long-term, regular use of marijuana can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal… as well as psychic addiction or dependence."

Read more: Smoking Weed Helps You See Better in the Dark

Unfortunately, some recent studies have shown that there's some truth to the stereotype that getting high tends to get in the way of being motivated due to cannabis-caused cognitive impairment.

In a study on rats published earlier this year, researchers found that when they administered THC to the animals they were more likely to forgo an attempt at a task that required significant effort for a large reward in favor of an easier one with a smaller pay out. And when a new study by researchers at the University College London, published in Psychopharmacology, set out to replicate these results in humans they found for the first time that cannabis had the same effect.

Led by Dr. Will Lawn, the researchers asked 17 participants who occasionally used cannabis to complete trials of a task for money while stoned. The participants could choose either a high- or low-effort tasks for varying rewards. The less strenuous task required the volunteers to press the spacebar on a keyboard with the pinky finger of their non-dominant hand 30 times in 7 seconds to win 50p, whereas the high-effort option involved pressing the spacebar 100 times in 21 seconds. The latter came with higher rewards.


Compared to a control cohort that chose and completed after vaping a placebo, the high study participants were less likely to want to tap the spacebar 100 times. The sober group went for the high-effort task 50 percent of the time, while the people on cannabis only chose it 42 percent.

Over the phone, Mason Silvera, who authored the study on how THC affects motivation in rats, said that policy should take into account these results that suggest cannabis could impair brain functioning. "To me it underscores the fact that you need to be sensible with how you interact with the drug," he said. "It is also interesting from a policy perspective, because with many regions reforming cannabis laws and more people using cannabis, we need to consider how it is going to be regulated. If you see these acute impairments on executive functioning, we need to design policies which take this into account."

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However, the study also uncovered some good news for the pro-cannabis camp. When Lawn tasked heavy use cannabis users with completing a task for a reward while they weren't high, they fared the same as non-users. This suggests that whatever demotivating effects that the drug has in the short-term don't linger when you're not high.

And Silvera points out that research that uncovers how cannabis effects us negatively isn't exactly negative. "Previous research has established a network of brain regions that are involved in these kind of effortful decisions, and now that similar decision-making deficits were observed following THC in our case and cannabis in the human study, we can follow this up in animal models to try and locate exactly where this is mediated in the brain," he said. "If we can localize where this effect is occurring, it then allows for the potential to attenuate it. This could eventually lead to the development of cannabinoid drugs that result in therapeutic benefit (pain relief, anti-anxiety agent) without the less desirable cognitive impairments."