Amotivational Syndrome and Cannabis Consumption

· January 29, 2019
Scientists have yet to demonstrate that cannabis is the main cause of amotivational syndrome. However, all data alludes to it being the main trigger.

Joint, blunt, pot, grass, Mary Jane, weed… These familiar terms refer to the drug cannabis, also known as marijuana. In this article, we’ll be talking about the relationship between marijuana and amotivational syndrome.

In recent years, a lot of scientific evidence regarding cannabis’ therapeutic properties has emerged. Some of them are analgesia, decreased intraocular pressure, antiemetic effect in vomiting induced by antineoplastic chemotherapy, muscle relaxant properties in various conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries, and movement disorders.

Many people also use it recreationally nowadays. As a matter of fact, it’s the most consumed drug in the world. This is worrisome because amotivational syndrome is more likely to manifest in people who use cannabis for a long period of time.

A person suffering from amotivational syndrome.

How can we define amotivational syndrome?

Amotivational syndrome is defined as a state of passivity and indifference characterized by generalized cognitive, interpersonal, and social difficulties. Additionally, it’s related to the prolonged use of cannabis (chronic THC poisoning).

Although the individual stops consuming marijuana, they may still be affected by the symptoms of this syndrome. The person feels no desire to do anything. They’re submerged in a continuous state of anhedonia. They have no motivation or enthusiasm, lack general interest, and are apathetic toward everything.

Motivation is the interest to satisfy a certain need, which produces an impulse to perform the behavior that will result in said satisfaction. Motivation is a key ingredient in the activation, direction, and maintenance of behavior.

Consuming cannabis intensifies the likelihood that any motivation to do a task (other than the consumption itself) will disappear or lose strength. The pleasure obtained by consuming cannabis becomes far greater than any other (work, interpersonal, leisure, relationship, etc.). The individual simply resorts to postponing every other activity.

The effects of long-term cannabis consumption

When the person has been consuming the drug for a long time, consuming it becomes their number one priority. They start considering it a basic need and neglecting those that actually are. Basically, their lives revolve around the substance and nothing else matters anymore.

The other stimuli weaken due to how pleased and relaxed the individual feels when they consume the drug. As a consequence, this makes other motivations seem irrelevant.

Prolonged consumption of the substance produces cognitive deterioration. No matter if the person interrupts its consumption, certain symptomatology may persist for long periods of time, if not forever.

The relationship between the use of marijuana and amotivational syndrome may seem clear. Scientists have yet to demonstrate that cannabis is, in fact, the main cause of this condition. However, we must point out that all data alludes to it being its main trigger.

“Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and self-respect, and everything that goes along with your self-esteem.”

-Kurt Cobain-

Signs and symptoms of amotivational syndrome

One of the symptoms of amotivational syndrome is emotional apathy, which consists of:

  • Inability to finish tasks.
  • Inability to evaluate the consequences of future actions.
  • Disinterest.
  • Passivity.
  • Difficulty staying focused and paying attention.
  • Memory alterations.
  • Indifference.
  • Lack of introspection (the individual isn’t aware of their mental state).
  • Delay in the fulfillment of tasks.
  • Disinterest in the future.
  • Disinterest in carrying out thorough, long-lasting activities.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Disinterest in personal care.
  • Sexual disinterest.
  • Decreased reflexes.
  • Vulnerability to get easily frustrated.
  • Slow movement.
A woman affected by cannabis consumption.

On a cognitive level, the symptoms produced by chronic cannabis consumption cause executive function alterations regarding:

  • Anticipation and establishment of goals.
  • Planning.
  • Inhibition of responses.
  • Choosing appropriate behaviors according to the context.
  • Tempo-spatial organization.
  • Cognitive flexibility.
  • Decision-making.
  • Working memory.

On a social level, the described symptoms result in fewer interactions with other people. The consumer loses interest in participating in social situations and activities of any kind. Instead, they show themselves apathetic and passive. This directly affects the individual’s social support. All this symptomatology can produce:

  • Low academic and/or work performance due to learning difficulties.
  • Social isolation due to fewer interactions with other people.
  • Lack of future plans.
  • Predisposition to get involved in conflicts with authorities.
  • Lack of short and long-term goals.

“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”

-Albert Einstein-

What can be done to treat amotivational syndrome?

The treatment’s main goal is the progressive reduction of cannabis consumption. The individual’s condition won’t improve if they keep consuming marijuana during their rehabilitation.

Psychotherapeutic work can help the consumer overcome this addiction and get their life back on track. The professional will also prescribe psychotropic drugs if necessary.

The first-choice treatments are SSRIs (antidepressants) and cognitive behavioral therapy to encourage the person to resume daily activities, improve relationships with family members, and improve their apathetic mental state.

  • Bobes, J., & Calafat, A. (2000). De la neurolobiología a la psicosociología del uso-abuso del cannabis. Adicciones12(5), 7-17.
  • Gutiérrez-Rojas, L., Irala, J. D., & Martínez-González, M. A. (2006). Efectos del cannabis sobre la salud mental en jóvenes consumidores.
  • Tziraki, S. (2012). Trastornos mentales y afectación neuropsicológica relacionados con el uso crónico de cannabis. Rev Neurol54(12), 750-760.