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It has sometimes been observed that when a young person starts smoking
marijuana there are systematic changes in that person's lifestyle,
ambitions, motivation, and possibly personality. These changes have
been collectively referred to as the _amotivational syndrome_, whose
"... apathy, loss of effectiveness, and diminished capacity or
willingness to carry out complex, long-term plans, endure frustration,
concentrate for long periods, follow routines, or successfully master
new material. Verbal facility is often impaired both in speaking and
writing. Some individuals exhibit greater introversion, become totally
involved with the present at the expense of future goals and
demonstrate a strong tendency toward regressive, childlike, magical
There is no doubt that many young individuals have changed from clean,
aggressive, upwardly mobile achievers into the sort of person just
described at about the same time as they started smoking marijuana.
What is not clear, however, is a causal relationship between the loss
of middle class motivations and cannabis. Which comes first, the
marijuana or the loss of motivations? This is not easy to answer. In
fact, there may be no clearcut answer. To begin with, all we know
about the amotivational syndrome is a result of a few case histories.
These data cannot answer questions about: a) how common the syndrome
is; b) whether the marijuana actually caused the change in behavior;
or c) if the change is caused by marijuana, if it is best described as
a change in all motivations, specific motivations, or something other
than motivation, like ability or personality.
It does not appear as though the amotivational syndrome is all that
common among marijuana smokers. In one survey a sample of almost
2000 college students was studied. There was no difference in grade
point average and achievement between marijuana users and nonusers,
but the users had more difficulty deciding on career goals, and a
smaller number were seeking advanced professional degrees. On the
other hand, other studies have shown lower school averages and higher
dropout rates among users than nonusers. In any case these differences
are not great. If there is such a thing as amotivational syndrome, its
affects appear to be restricted to a few individuals, probably the
small percentage who become heavy users.
Laboratory studies provide additional information on the causal
relationship between motivation and marijuana. The Mendelson
experiment, where hospitalised volunteers worked on an operant task to
earn money and marijuana for 26 days, found that the dose of marijuana
smoked did not influence the amount of work done by either the
casual-user group or the heavy-user group; all remained motivated to
earn and take home a significant amount of money in addition to the
work they did for the marijuana. It seems clear that marijuana does
not cause a loss of motivation.
While marijuana does not specifically diminish motivation, it is clear
that cannabis affects attention and memory, and these are intellectual
capacities usually considered necessary for success in educational
institutions. We know that a significant tolerance develops to these
effects and they can be suppressed voluntarily at low doses, but
consistent smoking of high doses of marijuana must impede a successful
academic career. In fact, achievement motivation must be high indeed
in any individual who combines high levels of cannabis use with a
successful academic career.
Since most reports of the amotivational syndrome originated in the
sixties in North America, what they seem to describe is a tendency for
college students to 'drop out' and assume a lifestyle that rejects
traditional achievement motivations of their parents' generation. In
an effort to understand this rejection it was very easy to believe
that it was pharmacological and to dismiss it as 'amotivational
 McGlothin, W.H., & West, L.J. (1968). The marihuana problem: An
overview. _American Journal of Psychiatry_, vol. 125, 370-378.
 Brill, N.Q., & Christie, R.L. (1974).Marihuana and psychosocial
adjustment. _Archives of General Psychiatry_, 31, 713-719.
 Mendelson, H.H., Kuehnle, J.C., Greenberg, I., & Mello, N.K.
(1976). The effects of marihuana use on human operant behavior:
Individual data. In M.C. Broude & S. Szara (eds.), _Pharmacology of
marihuana_, vol. 2(pp. 643-653). New York: Academic Press.