There’s a common belief that marijuana decreases motivation. Imagine the typical stereotype of the lazy stoner: sitting around watching TV and eating snacks all day. It’s easy to think that smoking weed could be the source of this kind of behavior. But is there any science to back this up? While there is no clear answer yet, some studies have linked marijuana to motivational problems, while others claim it can increase motivation. There are also studies which suggest no effect at all.

Let’s take a deeper look at the science behind motivation and how marijuana might affect it.

What is Motivation?

Motivation is the feeling of willingness or desire to take action. It’s related to the word motive, meaning reason for acting. Most people think of motivation as the general willingness to get up and go. In simplified terms, motivation is how easy it is for your brain to get you up and going. When you experience the feeling of motivation, you might describe it as a feeling of willpower, determination, passion or drive.

The brain produces a chemical called dopamine and it plays a big role in motivation. If you have heard of dopamine, you may know it as the brain’s reward chemical. Dopamine is released when we do things that promote our survival and reproduction, like eating, learning, and sex. The release of dopamine makes us feel good, so we do these things again and again.

Have you ever noticed a sudden rush of pleasure when you smell a tasty meal, even though you’re not actually eating it yet? Or experienced runners high? How about an orgasm?

The dopamine-reward system is connected to learning and memory. When you experience a pleasant sensation repeatedly, the brain learns to associate the context with impending pleasure. So, when you smell food before you eat it, your brain starts to release dopamine in anticipation of the pleasure of eating it. This ultimately conditions you to keep doing the things that lead you to pleasure.

Dopamine can also be released when the reward pathway gets stimulated for another reason. For example, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes and many recreational drugs are known to activate the brain’s reward pathway and release dopamine. Dopamine is released in anticipation of any pleasurable experiences, producing motivation and incentive to seek out the reward your body can produce naturally.

The dopamine-reward system is important when it comes to understanding marijuana and motivation. There is a strong link between the brain’s reward pathways and those that respond to using pot. THC activates the brain’s CB1 receptors, which leads to a rise in dopamine. Basically, marijuana causes the brain to release dopamine. This is part of why smoking weed makes us feel good. This effect is only temporary, and is measurable for about 2 hours following ingestion of marijuana. When consumed repeatedly, it can cause more lasting changes to your dopamine-reward system.

Does Marijuana Reduce Motivation?

The issue of whether marijuana reduces motivation is still inconclusive. Some studies show that marijuana can lower motivation, while others find no difference at all. The belief that marijuana reduces motivation can be traced back to the 1960s and 70s. During this time, North America saw an increase in cannabis use, and many early studies claimed that using marijuana could lead to chronic laziness.

In 1972, scientists created the term amotivational syndrome to describe the loss of drive to work, socialize, and attaining success in life; commonly seen in marijuana users. Marijuana users were described as apathetic, lethargic, and disengaged.

This theory has since been challenged. Today, there is little evidence to support the idea that marijuana causes amotivational syndrome. What evidence we do have is poor-quality: observational, and with small sample sizes. Some studies of heavy marijuana users have revealed no impairments in motivation at all.

Can Marijuana Increase Motivation?

Marijuana causes a temporary release of dopamine, which theoretically raises motivation in the short-term. However, the effects of marijuana on the brain are complicated and vary depending on the strain and the person consuming it.

Certain strains of marijuana are known to increase energy and alertness, while others are more sedative and give a “couch-lock” effect. This is determined by the terpenes that strain possess within its genetic makeup.

Marijuana has long been thought to reduce motivation, but some studies and anecdotes suggest the opposite is true. Additionally, it is possible there is no significant link between marijuana and motivation at all.

Most studies tend to have a negative outlook on marijuana and motivation, only investigating whether marijuana decreases or impairs motivation. The link between marijuana and motivation is complicated and requires further studies in larger settings to really understand how marijuana and motivation are connected.