Jesse Love “Amotivational Syndrome” and Marijuana use: An Ongoing Debate November 30, 2008 The positive or negative effects of marijuana usage are a common point of discussion among psychologists.
One of the more common debates surrounds “Amotivational Syndrome” (i. e. the purported lack of motivation that results from marijuana use). The existence or non-existence of this “syndrome” has been discussed for over a century among both users and non-users alike (Duncan, 1987, p. 114).The two articles chosen for this essay attempt to determine whether amotivational syndrome is a by-product of marijuana use by applying two separate methods of analysis. By analyzing these articles it will be clear that there is no conclusive evidence that suggests a direct correlation between amotivational syndrome and marijuana use.
In 1987, David F. Duncan sought to critique previous studies of marijuana use that claimed amotivational syndrome was a prevalent phenomenon among acute marijuana users.He aimed to challenge previous studies that assumed, in their conclusions, that users of marijuana possessed characteristics of “introversion, passivity, and lack of achievement-orientation” (Duncan, 1987, p. 114). In his introduction, Duncan introduced cross-cultural examples where marijuana use is actually used as a stimulant; for instance in Jamaica, where he compares marijuana use to North American coffee consumption (Duncan, 1987, p. 115). Duncan concludes that only by conducting a comparative study, i.
. by taking a sample of subjects who are both users and non-users, could real evidence for “marijuana-related antimotivational syndrome” be determined (Duncan, 1987, p. 115). Duncan pointed to the flaws a study conducted by Halikas et al. In 1982. Halikas wanted to determine the “lifetime prevalence” of amotivational syndrome in lifetime users of marijuana. To do so, he posed a single question meant to encompass the criterion of amotivational syndrome.
The question encompassed elements such as: “Have you ever had a period when you weren’t depressed or unhappy, but you just seemed to lose your motivation although you weren’t particularly upset by that feeling? ” (Duncan, 1987, p. 116). Duncan argued that Halikas et al. ’s study, in particular, was a failure because it failed to offer a comparison between users and non-users. Therefore, Duncan used the same questionnaire and applied it to a series of high-achieving subjects to determine the frequency of amotivational syndrome within a larger population of both users and non-users.Duncan selected two hundred thirty-eight athletic students (some former Olympians) from a European university. All subjects were required to speak English and came from various parts of the world.
He began by requesting all subjects to fill out a questionnaire regarding past marijuana consumption. The subjects were subsequently divided into three groups: 1) those who had never used marijuana, 2) those who used marijuana daily for a thirty day period in their life and, 3) those who used marijuana but could not fill the requirements for group 2 (Duncan, 1987, p. 17). The results of this initial questionnaire indicated that 47. 7% had never used marijuana, 23. 8% were occasional/experimental users and 24. 1% had been daily users.
These three groups also responded to the questionnaire borrowed from Halikas et al. It was determined that there was no significant variation in the frequency of amotivational syndrome among marijuana users (Duncan, 1987, p. 117). These results only serve to debunk the initial findings of Halikas et al. and other psychologists who had followed similar methods of analysis.Indeed, Duncan made this explicit in the conclusion of his report. It is clear from Duncan’s work that a new methodology is required to determine whether amotivational syndrome is more prevalent among marijuana users.
The limitations of this research are therefore quite clear. Future studies will require both long and short-term analysis of both users and non-users. Also, a controlled definition of motivation will be required to determine what a lack thereof implies. To make improvements one would therefore need to have access, as Duncan had, to a large body of subjects. It would then e necessary to track these subjects, both users and non-users alike, over a sustained period of time to determine whether or not the likelihood of amotivational syndrome is more common among users or non-users, if there is in fact a difference at all. Duncan ultimately argued that he was still prepared “…to relegate the antimotivational syndrome to the growing scrap heap of discarded marijuana myths” (Duncan, 1987, p. 118).
In 2002, Cherek et al. conducted a much more dynamic study of amotivational syndrome, following a number of the suggestions offered years earlier by Duncan.They offered a vague definition of amotivational syndrome as a “set of characteristics” including “general apathy…loss of productivity…lethargy (and) depression” among others (Cherek, Lane and Dougherty, 2002, p. 26). Despite these agreed upon attributes of amotivational syndrome, Cherek et al. also found it difficult to pinpoint the amotivational “phenomenon”. They recalled some of the studies referred to by Duncan that found a positive correlation between marijuana usage and amotivational syndrome.
By recognizing that amotivational syndrome occurred among users and non-users alike, the researchers concluded that amotivational syndrome was ultimately a question of frequency. Cherek et al. also sought to arrive at a conclusive definition of motivation, both theoretically and methodologically. To cross this hurdle, Cherek et al. opted to follow a behavioral approach in conjunction with a progressive ratio schedule (PR) and a fixed-time schedule (FT). In this way, they could “…define and measure motivation by measuring changes in PR responding across changes in reinforcer magnitude” (Cherek et al. , 2002, p.
27).Monetary reward would be used as an operational reinforcement and data would be based on subject response rates. The first experiment involved five males who were occasional marijuana users. It was used to confirm the initial “proposed operational definition of motivational behavior” which meant that there was a direct ratio between the response time and the motivation (Cherek et al. , 2002, pp. 27-28). The results proved that their initial suppositions were correct and that the changes in response rate and ratios were “consistent with the operational method” established from the outset of the experiment (Cherek et al.
2002, p. 30). The following two experiments used a different subject base but retained the same reinforcer values. The researchers controlled the THC supply, dividing it into three strains of potency. They argued that a decrease in PR response following “acute marijuana administration” while the keeping the reinforcer at a constant level would indicate decreased levels of motivation (Cherek et al. , 2002, p. 30).
The results of Experiment 2 Phase 1 indicated that acute marijuana consumption did alter behavior. However, the results were not dose dependent.Experiment 2 Phase 2 showed that the “marijuana-induced decreases in responding can be overcome by increasing the reinforcer” (Cherek et. al, 2002, p. 35). This meant that although it was clear that there were overt behavioral differences between marijuana induced subjects and the placebo subjects, these differences could be overcome by offering a motivational stimulus. The researchers concluded that acute marijuana users do exhibit some forms of amotivational behavior.
This behavior could be usurped if there was an increase in the reinforcement.They pointed out that other studies had achieved results that disconfirmed this conclusion. However, those studies did not offer “the availability of at least one alternative response” for the subjects.  Cherek et al. suggested that one could “construe” their study as an indication that marijuana does induce amotivational behavior. Still, this is not entirely conclusive because the study solely examined the effects of short-term acute marijuana use. Most of the controversy surrounding marijuana use generally questions whether long-term use, rather than short-term use, effects amotivational behavior.
2] The fact that only short-term marijuana use was studied here is its greatest limitation. It was also limited because of the small number of subjects and the environment in which they were tested (a small room). These articles are particularly interesting for me because I am an occasional marijuana user and have always been concerned about how I will be affected in the long-term. I tend to agree with various elements from both studies. I am convinced, like Duncan that many myths concerning marijuana consumption have circulated for political reasons rather than because of empirical data.I also believe that amotivational syndrome is common among both users and non-users alike. Whether or not users are more disposed to this phenomenon is still up for debate.
Cherek et al. ’s study was also intriguing because it demonstrated that amotivational syndrome (whether induced by marijuana or not) could be overcome by increasing the reinforcement. This makes a lot of sense in my world-view, as quite often the individuals I have known will become motivated only if they believe they will reap reasonable rewards. If the rewards are not worth the effort, “amotivational syndrome” may set it.These studies have demonstrated that there is still much more research to be conducted on the effects of marijuana consumption both in the short- term and the long-term. It appears as if there is more speculation regarding marijuana than there is empirical evidence. The topic of amotivational syndrome is particularly troublesome because of the tricky nature of defining motivation.
This problem is compounded when conducting a controlled study because there is very little motivation, nor may it be possible, for the participants to behave in a controlled environment as they would in the real world.References Cherek, Don R. , Lane, Scott D. and Dougherty, Donald M (2002). Possible Antimotivational Effects Following Marijuana Smoking Under Laboratory Conditions. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 10(1), 26-38. Duncan, David F.
(1987). Lifetime Prevalence of “Antimotivational Syndrome” Among Users and Non-Users of Hashish. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 1(2), 114-119. ———————–  Cherek et al. , 35.  Cherek et al. , 36.
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