The stereotype about sleepy stoners hanging out on the couch the whole day and doing nothing has been proved wrong long ago. Not all strains provide you with a lazy high. Some of them are real mines of motivation and inspiration. However, the science behind the impact of cannabis on your motivation is still unclear. Let us look at this issue closer.
First of all, we have to determine what exactly motivation is and how it works in our bodies.
Motivation is the feeling of willingness to take action. Simply speaking, it is the readiness of your brain to make you get up and do something. When you are motivated, you feel passion, desire, drive. At the base of motivation lies the brain's reward chemical—dopamine. It makes us feel good so that we would do certain things again and again. Dopamine is usually released during the actions that promote our survival and reproduction. Our reward system is connected to memory, so when our body experiences a pleasant sensation, our brain associates it with the context and cues the pleasure next time as well.
There are other things that can stimulate the reward system. Alcohol, cigarettes, and recreational drugs can activate the reward pathway to release dopamine, thus producing motivation. There is a strong link between the reward mechanism and our own endocannabinoid system. Our brain's CB1 receptors are activated by the cannabis' compound THC. This process leads to the rise in dopamine. This increase lasts for about two hours after the smoke. However, if we consume marijuana regularly, it can cause more lasting changes. For example, there is a 2013 study conducted at Imperial College London that associates marijuana use with irregularities in the brain regions related to dopamine. This process can surely influence our motivation. This study also found that long-term consumers had lower levels of dopamine. These results can be disputed due to the very narrow group of the study participants. In any case, these findings could explain the lack of motivation among regular consumers. It is also mentioned that people who quit cannabis can reverse the process, and their dopamine levels will return to the norm.
In 1972, scientists came up with the term “amotivational syndrome” that is manifested in the loss of drive to socialize, work, and attain success in life. This syndrome was rather common in marijuana users who were lethargic and apathetic. During the next decades, the syndrome was challenged due to the lack of evidence.
These studies focus on the lack of motivation among stoners. But can weed actually increase it? The problem with all motivation research is that there is a lot of speculation. Most studies are observational and do not take into account many factors. The found correlation does not equal causation.
Theoretically, the instant release of dopamine results in the short-term motivation. There are some studies that support the idea of “active” cannabis. The Rubin and Comitas study revealed that in societies where marijuana use was widespread, the general motivation level was increased, contrary to the expectations. The study was conducted among the Jamaican farmers who smoked cannabis on a regular basis. After consumption, they worked harder and had a focused mind.
The last but not the least factor is the popularity of weed among artists who use it to increase their inspiration and productivity.
In addition, the influence of marijuana on our brains is complicated and largely depends on the strain we use. Some of them are reported to be couch-locking and sedative (mostly indicas). Other strains, usually sativas, tend to be more inspiring and motivating.
For now, scientists agree on one answer—the link between marijuana and motivation is complex and requires further research.