The relationship between anhedonia (the inability to derive pleasure from things or activities) and regular cannabis use has been controversial as previous studies have produced conflicting results. It doesn't help that every negative psychosocial trait that was ascribed to reefer madness during the dark era of cannabis prohibition still lingers on. If you grew up in 80s and got to watch “Your brain on drugs,” you can possibly relate. So for many decades, marijuana has been “guilty as charged” when it comes to every negative social and psychological trait. But a new study has shown otherwise.
A study that was published in The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology in August, 2022 showed a null relationship between anhedonia and and regular cannabis use. The researchers used data from an earlier study that had investigated cannabis use in teens, the “CannTeen study.”
There were 274 participants including adults (26-29 years) and adolescents (16-17 years). The participants were regular cannabis users who had used cannabis in the last three months, with an average use of four times per week. The Snaith Hamilton Pleasure Scale was used to measure anhedonia while the Apathy Evaluation Scale was used to measure apathy. The results showed that the control group (those who didn't use cannabis or didn't use it regularly) had higher levels of anhedonia. This was quite surprising and contrary to the widely held belief that regular cannabis use diminishes one’s enthusiasm for life.
Most of the effects of marijuana as a whole and single cannabinoids depends on several things such as dosage, sex, body weight, and the developmental window of exposure among others.
Adding to this evidence, Cambridge University has also recently published a paper that shown that adolescent cannabis users are not more likely to “lack motivation and the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures.” This shows that the stereotypical cannabis user as often portrayed by the media is not grounded in science. The study was carried out by researchers from UCL, Kings College of London Institute of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, and the University of Cambridge and the results published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. From the research, regular cannabis users had slightly lower scores for anhedonia.
One of the researchers, Martine Skumlien, expressed his disappointment with the stereotype terming it lazy.
“We're so used to seeing lazy stoners on our screens that we don't stop to ask whether they're an accurate representation of cannabis users. Our work implies that this is in itself a lazy stereotype.”
Other studies that have highlighted a similar finding include the following:
- Effort-based decision making and self-reported apathy in frequent cannabis users and healthy controls: A replication and extension (a study from June 2022): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35767680/
- Apathy and Anhedonia in Adult and Adolescent Cannabis Users and Controls Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown (a study from November 2021):
With the above thought in mind it would be beneficial to have a follow up study to flesh out these finding. All in all, the science of medical cannabis continues to advance each day for the benefit of human kind.