Stoner Stereotyping: The Slacker

Topped by a red-eyed lab-rat wearing a tie-dye shirt (incidentally, the most substantive thing in the puff-piece which follows), the offending article’s title is a lazy leading question “Marijuana Makes For Slackers? Now There’s Evidence”.

You don’t need to read further, really. The premise is stated in the title, and its result is obvious: while stoned, people are inclined toward passivity. That is a known, observable fact — there’s no need for any evidence beyond the anecdotal to support that fact.

Nevertheless. This quietly hysterical article leans on two new studies (Winstanley’s rat-study, and an unnamed UCLondon human study), which purportedly prove that cannabis makes users lazy.

Both of these studies are simplistic binary tests (e.g. whether or not the rat/human will choose a more difficult task while under the influence of Marihuana). Their conclusion is that test-subjects lose interest in performing difficult tasks.

Firstly, it should be noted that this is a massive oversimplification of what the subjects are undergoing. In F.T. Melges’ 1970 study “Marihuana And Temporal Disintegration”, the particular mental processes affected by cannabis intoxication are examined through a series of tests which glean substantive data. The Goal Directed Serial Alternation test (GDSA), for example, tests subjects’ ability to add and subtract numbers until they reach a stated goal. In the words of Melges, this test “required that the subject simultaneously hold in mind and coordinate information as well as mental operations relevant to pursuing a goal”.

Without further discussion of the substantive conclusions drawn by this study, it should be obvious that Melges et al were studying the effects of marihuana (upon not only the subjects’ ability to pursue a goal, but also their mental state, perception of time, and euphorigenic by-products stemming from the experience) in greater depth than simply whether or not they chose to pursue a task.

Since the study makes for fascinating reading, I am including an excerpt that demonstrates the depth of intellectual engagement which Melges brings to his subject:

During the “peak” or “superstoned” stage, induced by high doses, the subject fixes on one frame, more or less unaware of other frames; there is no continuum — just one frame in which completely different contents flash in and out. These “flashes” are inner fantasies from past, present, and future, admixed with outside perceptions, all telescoped into one frame, almost like a superimposition of images that flick in and out with no temporal relation to one another. Since there is no continuum of before and after, or — in the words of Henri Bergson’s — no “continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future,” the experience seems timeless.

Melges takes great interest in the mental processes of his subjects. Instead of simply labeling them as ‘go-getters’ or ‘slackers’, he delves into the subjective experiences of participants in his study. His study achieves its original goal, but also gleans a great deal of insight regarding the less measurable effects of marihuana.

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Secondly: the very premise OF this study is geared to provide scientific evidence which supports a long-acknowledged stereotype of stoners. Though the human study notes that the apathy of the seventeen (17) participants wore off after they came down, the language of the WSJ article heavily suggests that usage affects the subject in more long-ranging ways.

The human study focused directly upon the subjects’ motivation to win money. Which equates the person themself, and (implicitly) their potential contribution to society, by the sole metric of their interest in earning money.

The purpose of these studies is to reinforce a stereotype, rather than provide any true insight or original thought. Its goal is to ‘prove’ that potheads are unmotivated, useless people — by a very narrow definition of usefulness. They ignore any of the positive psychological effects of using marihuana, and do not factor in (or describe) any of the subjective effects upon their subjects.

The most intellectually lazy element of this study is, unquestionably, the team of researchers conducting it.

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Thirdly. The sheer ludicrosity of identifying ‘hardworking’ rats and ‘slackers’. This study (supposedly) provides evidence-by-analogy that human potheads are lazy — but coming to that conclusion with any degree of surety involves far, FAR more than simply the desire to fulfill a straightforward task. The implied conclusion is that stoners are less productive; aside from discussing these studies, the WSJ article casts doubt upon the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Michael Bloomfield (one of the UCL study’s authors) says that “thinking [pot] is harmless, that you can smoke cannabis and be fine, is a false assumption.” I might produce a dozen arguments contrary to HIS false statement — among those, the fact that there has never been a documented case of fatal overdose on marihuana — but that’s not what I’m working on here.

The issue at hand is something entirely different. Their premise, once again, is that marihuana creates ‘slackers’. Implicit in this statement is the idea that cannabis consumers are not productive members of society, and that they should be shamed and shunned by others on account of their behavior.

On the contrary: marihuana-users are responsible for a great deal of creative work. Carl Sagan wrote at length about the positive effects of marihuana, and how it not only expanded his mind, but led to revelations which pushed his work forward. The Beatles smoked weed (as well as experimenting with psychedelic drugs). There are hundreds of other such examples, but I think Carl Sagan and the Beatles are two solid citations.

The inability to concentrate on immediate tasks does not preclude the ability to engage on higher planes of thought. That is where cannabis users excel — and how they make intellectual connections which have longitudinal benefits to their immediate circle of influence, their artistic endeavors, and the advancement of mankind.