Amotivational Syndrome and Marijuana Use: An Ongoing Debate

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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.e. 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. 117). 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...
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