are in Research
amotivational syndrome and personality trait absorption: A review and reconceptualization
L. Nelson, Ph.D.
for Humanities and Human Sciences
Southern Cross University
This paper argues that the so-called cannabis 'amotivation syndrome', widely reported
in the literature, may not be a single nosological entity, but represent, instead,
a change in cognitive style emerging as a result of cannabis's ability to facilitate
a unique attentional state favoured by those who have a higher than average level
of a personality factor referred to as 'trait absorption'. Exaggeration of the
absorptive style of cognition through cannabis use, when taken in the context
of either a pre-existing or a reactive depression, may be what has been mistakenly
categorized as 'amotivational syndrome'.
In spite of the pressure of increasing law enforcement campaigns and more sophisticated
educational endeavours in Australia and other Western democracies, cannabis is
not apparently losing its attractiveness to many young people . One of the
major concerns expressed by those who are attempting to reduce cannabis use in
the young is the occurrence amongst users of a collocation of behaviours and attitudes
collectively referred to as the 'amotivational syndrome' [2, 3]. This presumed
psychological syndrome is believed to be a direct result of regular, heavy cannabis
use and leaves those so affected reduced in motivation and capacity for the usual
activities required for achievement and success in today's world. Although many
anti-cannabis campaigners accept, a priori, the existence of the 'amotivational
syndrome', there is still some considerable debate as to whether it is an actual
nosological entity and whether all cannabis users are so effected.
article will argue that 'amotivational syndrome' is not, in fact, a single entity,
but, rather, a collection of behaviours which emerge as the result of the combination
of the effects of an already existent or a reactive depression occurring concomitantly
with cannabis's ability to facilitate a unique attentional state favoured by those
who have a higher than average level of a personality factor referred to as 'trait
absorption' . Thus, the apparent loss of motivation for many socially accepted
behaviours and tasks as well as the changes in attitude and cognitive style associated
with cannabis use may represent a re-orientation in attentional style, meaning
and values rather than merely a collapse into pharmacologically induced pathology.
So, it may be that cannabis is not being predicably affected by educational or
law enforcement programs because the urge to use the drug arises for many from
a primary psychological need which far outweighs the power of those sorts of external
pressures. The primary personality 'need' being described here is the propensity
of certain individuals to seek and choose to experience 'flow'  or 'absorptive'
states for their own sake because of their intrinsic self-rewarding qualities.
order to explore the possible relationship between 'trait absorption' and apparent
'amotivational syndrome' this paper will first present a review of the 'amotivational
syndrome' literature followed by a delineation of the personality factor, 'trait
absorption'. In the final section a re-examination of 'amotivational syndrome'
will be undertaken in the light of the discussion of the absorptive personality
type and the unique styles of attention deployment preferred by these individuals.
Further, it will be suggested that not only are attempts by cannabis users to
augment the 'absorptive' cognitive style not pathological, but this type of behaviour
may be seen as a healthy sign of a striving to re-balance cognitive 'style' from
over-dependence on the active, achieving, doer mode of the post-industrial age
to the 'receptive' style of the visionary and mystic more reminiscent of traditional
spirituality and artistically creative life-styles .AMOTIVATIONAL
Cannabis research has, for the past three decades, failed to reach any unassailable
conclusions regarding long-term psychological effects of the drug on otherwise
normal, healthy users [6, 7, 8, 9, 45, 46]. Research has been, at best, problematic,
taking place in the midst of a highly emotionally charged debate. Pharmacologically,
when cannabis is ingested the primary psycho-active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol
(THC), rapidly disappears from the blood plasma and is taken up in fat where it
remains with a half life decay rate of 5-7 days. This means that following a single
dose of THC, less than 1% of the primary active ingredient remains in fatty tissue
after approximately 35-50 days . THC's oil solubility, and thus its high affinity
for fatty tissue, probably accounts for its attraction to neural tissue with its
high lipid content. Although, in the case of light to moderate cannabis users
THC can be detected in body fluids for approximately 30 days after the last consumption,
it is quite difficult to detect perceptual-motor effects this long after a given
average single dose (1-3 mg THC in cannabis to be smoked). This is unlike alcohol
where a clear dose/response curve is demonstrable in which effects of ethanol
on behaviour and judgement can be demonstrated at blood levels below 0.05% .
properties of long half-life and high intoxicant activity of THC have been a major
confounding factor in previous clinical and closed ward behavioural and performance
studies of the effects of cannabis in humans . The high dose rates of the typical
chronic cannabis user recruited for many of these studies, when taken in the context
of the relatively long half-life of THC, suggest that behavioural and psychological
tests conducted on chronic users, who are supposedly no longer using cannabis,
are, in fact, being carried out on individuals still somewhat intoxicated [9,
12]. Hence, any ascriptions of permanent neurological, behavioural, cognitive
or affective changes due to cannabis are often confounded. In addition, as will
be argued later in this paper, cannabis appears to facilitate the learning of
cognitive styles which emphasize capacities quite different from and contrary
to those required for doing well on most psychological performance tests.
the recent work of Herkenham et al  in mapping the distribution of cannabis
binding sites in the brain there is no doubt that the cannabinols have affinities
for certain brain structures. However, it is as yet unclear as to whether cannabis
has any predictable specific behavioural, cognitive, and/or affective consequences
resulting from the particular receptor site bindings mapped in their study. To
date it is not possible to describe a unique and repeatable constellation of psychological
responses to the action of the cannabinols as is possible for the opiate derivatives
or the neuroleptic compounds used in the treatment of schizophrenia . This
observation alone must cast some considerable doubt on most psychopharmacological
ascriptions made for the actions of the cannabinols in the human central nervous
is little doubt, however, that cannabis has some effect on the nervous system
during acute intoxication. This can be seen from the wide variety of psychological
changes reported by users and observed by researchers. Weller  summarizes
a number of findings across a variety of studies which purport to delineate psychological
profiles due to the effect of cannabis.
One study found that marijuana users were more impulsive and nonconforming than
nonusers. Another study discovered more "psychiatric impairment" in
users based on personality tests. A self-administered drug survey conducted at
two colleges found that users were less likely to be at the top of their class,
had looser religious ties, and were more dissatisfied with school. They were also
more likely to be bored, anxious, cynical, disgusted, moody, impulsive, rebellious,
or restless. In still another study, marijuana users were more opposed than nonusers
to external control and likely to use the drug to relieve tension (p.101).
However, he criticises these characterisations by arguing that little effort has
been made to determine the personality types and differences before subjects became
involved in a cannabis 'lifestyle'. Thus, it is arguable that any ascription of
personality type or permanent behavioural effects of cannabis on users must be
seen as somewhat spurious. This logical error of explaining the behaviour of cannabis
users, post hoc, in the absence of within-subject controls, appears to be a commonly
repeated one throughout the cannabis literature. On the other hand, Weil's 
argument that cannabis is an "active placebo" (p. 95), which facilitates
already existent covert behaviours and pathologies, offers an equally credible
explanation for most observations made concerning pathological syndromes associated
with cannabis use. In addition, Weil's view has the added benefit of accounting
for, in part, the great variation seen from individual to individual when intoxicated
such constellation of behaviours, which has been repeatedly claimed as a unique
nosological entity peculiar to chronic cannabis users, has been labelled 'amotivational
syndrome' [2, 3, 10, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20]. McGlothlin and West first reported that
regular cannabis use can lead to the development of passive, inward-turning, amotivational
personality characteristics. At about the same time, Smith made a similar observation,
based on several young marijuana users, that regular cannabis ingestion leads
to a loss of desire to compete and work which, like McGlothlin and West, he labelled
 describes the origins and general characteristics associated with this hypothesized
This contention was based on clinical observation of middle-class, heavy marijuana
users referred to them for treatment. Conforming, achievement-oriented behaviour
had changed to relaxed and careless drifting. Inability to concentrate for long
periods, endure frustration, follow routines, and carry out complex, long-term
plans, as well as apathy and loss of effectiveness, were noted. Such individuals
became totally involved with the present at the expense of future goals. They
had less objective productivity and seemed to withdraw subtly from the challenge
of life (pp. 95, 98).
He reminds us, however, that no specific studies or case reports were cited to
support McGlothlin and West's observations .
descriptions noted which apparently characterize this syndrome include: shift
or decline in ambition; unproductiveness; aimlessness; poor class attendance;
lack of goals; poor school performance; apathy and sluggishness in mental and
physical responses; disorientation; flattening of affect; loss of interest in
personal appearance; physical exhaustion; loss of time sense; difficulty with
recent memory; mental confusion; and depression [14, 21, 22, 45, 46]. Nevertheless,
in most cases symptoms disappeared if marijuana was discontinued suggesting not
so much a syndrome but behaviour of chronically intoxicated individuals using
their intoxicated state as a way of focusing their resentment of social and parental
pressure. Moreover, Maugh states, from his summary of research conducted prior
to 1974, that the amotivation symptoms listed above have been known to persist
in some cases for up to 24 months after cessation of drug use.
cites Halikas et al's summary of the medical literature which suggests a reduction
in levels of sperm and testosterone in men as a result of chronic cannabis use
[14, 21]. The latter change was observed in a closed ward situation with subjects
at first showing no alteration in testosterone levels for about four weeks, followed
by a subsequent and gradual drop in testosterone level which continued until cannabis
intake stopped. This situation reversed itself on cessation of cannabis intake
with levels beginning to rise after one week's abstinence. Weller concludes that
"if testosterone affects aggression and drive, low testosterone might affect
motivation. However, this relationship must be considered hypothetical without
additional research (p. 102)."
and Post observed, in the 226 subjects they studied, an inverse relationship between
levels of marijuana consumption and rate of employment, successful completion
of school, present enrolment in school and the number of years of education completed
. A later study by Creason and Goldman affirmed this assessment when it was
found that high school students who are heavy users and ex-users of cannabis are
significantly lower on a behavioural measure of motivation than are casual and
nonusers . However, these authors suggest that "heavy marijuana use is
limited to those who are already inclined to low motivation and depression"
(p. 452) and in yet another, but related study, assessment was undertaken of 237
students in a Central European sports training facility for lifetime prevalence
of amotivational syndrome . This study, in contrast to that of Carlin and
Post, reveals that 'amotivational syndrome' is not significantly associated with
a history of marijuana use. In addition to the survey assessments provided by
the above studies, Foltin et al, using an experimental design consisting of a
structured performance task in the presence and absence of behavioural contingency
requirements, found that in a comparison of cannabis users to no-drug and placebo
conditions smoked marijuana was associated with a greater decrease in the use
of time earned to perform high probability activities during contingency periods
. These findings are interpreted by the authors as evidence of an 'amotivational'
effect which may result from repeated use of smoked marijuana.
a large-scale study Mullins et al examined the drug consumption habits of recent
conscripts into the United States Air Force who were, for the most part, young,
healthy and not psychiatrically morbid . The authors compared 2,842 US Air
Force trainees who had used only cannabis with 1,843 who had used cannabis and/or
other drugs and with a control sample of 9,368 on whom no drug-using information
was available. Comparisons were made on five separate aptitude measures, on educational
level attained prior to enlistment, and on three measures of performance of Air
Force duties. It was found that every mean score for the drug using groups was
significantly different from its control counterpart at p = 0.01 or better. The
most intriguing finding, in light of the authors' conclusion that cannabis causes
an 'amotivational syndrome', is that for level of performance "all means
are significantly lower than the control mean except the means for the cannabis-only
group, which are significantly higher than the control means" (p. 4). Moreover,
the authors argue that the differences between the cannabis-only group and the
other drug groups, regarding level of performance, may be the result of the degree
of drug use. They assert that multiple drug takers are more likely to be heavy
users as opposed to the cannabis-only group which they claim are more likely to
be light to moderate users. Thus, the lower means for the multiple drug groups
are interpreted as resulting from the total overall consumption of drugs rather
than the mixing of mind-altering substances which, like the mixture of cannabis
and alcohol, may interact synergistically .
with the superior performance findings of Mullins et al are the results of Brill
and Christie who observed, in a longitudinal study (1970-72) of marijuana use
amongst 1,380 American college students, that a great majority either experienced
"no effect" on adjustment or "improved" adjustment with only
a small minority claiming their situation to be worsened . In confirmation
of this self-report evidence the students' grade-point averages showed no significant
difference between cannabis user and non-user groups. In a similar study on a
sample of 560 college students who were primarily cannabis-only users (85-90%),
Goode found that grade-point averages for the casual and infrequent users to be
higher than for non-users but slightly worse (non-significant) for heavy users
as compared to abstainers . This appears to suggest that 'amotivational syndrome'
is not inevitable amongst a normal college population of marijuana smokers and
the syndrome, if it exists, may be associated with heavy use only.
his review of the cannabis literature Cohen reminds us that the 'amotivational
syndrome' is so variable in presentation and is influenced by the magnitude and
type of any premorbid pathology, that the very existence of such a syndrome must
remain quite controversial . On the other hand, it is the observation of both
this author and Cohen that apparent lethargy and loss of ambition and goal orientation
persist for some time during intervals of withdrawal from cannabis. In many cases
this anergic condition is apparently reversed after months of abstinence, but
Cohen reports that some clinicians recount what they believe to be the occurrence
of permanent brain dysfunction in some subjects studied. However, it is interesting
to note that Thurlow observed that cannabis users who complained of apathy and
loss of motivation improved when treated with antidepressant medication .
interpretation of the symptoms of 'amotivational syndrome' offered by some researchers
is that it may be a facilitated depressive disorder which is brought to the fore
by chronic, heavy cannabis use in a minority of pre-disposed individuals. Although
Creason and Goldman argue for the existence of an 'amotivational syndrome', they
conclude that marijuana consumption among adolescents exists across a wide range
of youth groups, but heavy marijuana consumption appears to be limited to those
who seem already inclined to low motivation and depression . Kupfer et al
draw a similar conclusion in an earlier study in which they compare 46 and 44
male undergraduates who were, respectively, heavy and light marijuana smokers
. However, their findings do not suggest any particular psychopathology associated
with either group and these authors propose that heavy use of cannabis may be
related to already existing depression which is, itself, the source of impaired
motivation rather than frequent marijuana use.
et al also report a high incidence of depressive disorder in regular cannabis
users who had smoked at least fifty times in the past six months before the commencement
of the study . Weller indicates that an examination of the subjects of that
study reveals that most were young (mean age = 22 years), middle-class and had
been smoking cannabis for an average of 2 years . "Systematic evaluation
revealed that most of their psychiatric problems predated marijuana use. About
18% had a history of definite or probable depression before significant marijuana
use (p. 102)."
should be borne in mind that the subjects of many of those studies which identify
'amotivational syndrome' as a product of cannabis use have been referred for treatment
and hence do not represent the population of cannabis users in general. In fact,
from the numbers given in many sources, those presenting with psychopathologies
of any kind represent a very small minority indeed. For example, the 1991 National
Campaign Against Drug Abuse survey of drug use in Australia reveals that 31.9%
of Australians 14 years and older have tried cannabis at least once, 7.1% have
used it within the past month, and 5.4% within the last week . Thus, there
are just under a million regular cannabis users in Australia who apparently function
well enough so that most do not come to the attention of medical or legal authorities.
Therefore, if 'amotivational syndrome' was a fact of cannabis use, Australian
society would unmistakably feel its impact more directly and distinctly than is
actually the case. One can only conclude that this supposed 'syndrome' may be,
in part, the mis-labelling of a latent affect disorder which, in a small minority
of unfortunate individuals, becomes manifest when facilitated by chronic cannabis
the findings of Creason and Goldman, it appears that the effect of heavy cannabis
use on motivation is not dependent on the presence of the drug in the user's system
. Although their work more precisely operationalizes the concept of 'motivation',
which is central to the 'amotivational syndrome' debate, it is, perhaps, too narrow
a definition when attempting to delineate the complex constellation of social-psychological
changes seen in chronic cannabis users. For them motivation merely becomes
...the difference between the subject's performance on a task [solution of anagrams]
when working for a reward and when the subject is not externally motivated [working
for a reward]. A subject who performed better working for a reward than when not
was considered more motivated than a subject who performed at the same level regardless
of whether there was a reward at stake (p. 448). (Brackets mine)
From their results, in which they observed diminished motivation in heavy users
and ex-users, they hypothesize the existence of a possible intervening personality
variable as the possible distinguishing characteristic which separates those who
are high users and high ex-users from casual or non-users and "that this
factor is independent of present marijuana use while it does make the subject
more likely to use marijuana" (17, p. 452). In conclusion they argue that
there is good evidence in the research literature to suggest that intense cannabis
use may be limited to those who have an inclination towards low motivation and
depression. Unfortunately, these authors were not able to assess for any possible
pre-existing psychiatric morbidity or personality differences which may have indicated
either prior psychiatric conditions or differences in personality driven motivational
levels in heavy users before the commencement of their cannabis habits.
thus far: although researchers have apparently identified a group of cannabis
consumers who undergo some changes in life-style and motivation, the existence
of 'amotivation syndrome' as a nosological entity seems somewhat doubtful for
at least five reasons. First, most studies cited thus far are unable to disconfound
prior existing psychiatric morbidities from any effect directly caused by cannabis.
Second, and closely related, is the difficulty in separating cannabis as catalytic
facilitator of a covert but developing psychopathology from cannabis as causal
agent in the onset of depression, loss of motivation, etc. Third, many of the
studies examined above were conducted without properly contextualizing the social
circumstances of those being studied (e.g., Kolansky and Moore ). Research
on motivation, adherence to educational courses and behaviour changes associated
with cannabis use conducted in the 1960's and 1970's are confounded with the effect
of changing social values, rebellious attitudes to the 'system' and alternative
life-style worldviews which were prevalent at the times of those studies. Fourth,
the research results on and pattern of this supposed syndrome contain too much
contradictory evidence to pass the most basic test of empirical consistency required
for sound scientific conceptualization as a single dynamic entity. Fifth, and
most importantly from the perspective of this paper, no pre-test, post-test long-term
longitudinal studies have been conducted which attempt to identify personality
traits associated with chronic cannabis usage.
to the interpretation of 'amotivational syndrome' as given in Creason and Goldman,
it can be argued that the explanatory intervening personality variable posited
by these authors (to account for increased cannabis use and subsequent loss of
motivation in the cognitive, perceptual-motor tasks typically employed in most
performance studies) is what Tellegen and Atkinson have called 'trait absorption'
[4, 17]. It can be hypothesized that those who become heavy cannabis users (and
show signs of 'amotivational syndrome') are doing so because the intoxicant properties
of THC augment and facilitate this given personality trait in a manner which is
self-rewarding. Of course, the inherent danger of any self-rewarding system is
the formation of an uncontrollable positive feedback loop which leads to ever
increasing levels of consumption of the facilitating substance - in this case
is being hypothesized herein that the so-called 'amotivational syndrome' does
not represent a specific psychiatric nosology but is, rather, the combination
of two general factors arising from heavy cannabis use brought about by a personality-need
driven positive feedback loop. With regular cannabis use is observed:
1) a change in cognitive style to a more 'absorptive' state in which externally
driven reward systems no longer predominate with subsequent reduction in a user's
level of achievement motivation; and
2) the development of depression which sometimes ensues either as a consequence
of a prior existing pathology or as a result of the user being unable to sustain
the desired 'absorption' state for reasons arising as a result of social circumstances,
changing self-concept engendered by the cannabis-induced state and/or the development
of increased tolerance to the effects of THC.
However, before discussing the possible mechanisms entailed by the above hypotheses,
the personality factor of 'trait absorption' requires further elucidation.
It has been argued in recent years that 'flow' states of consciousness and/or
'absorption' experiences may represent a basic human personality trait which has,
as its primary drive, the need to experience the world in a self-absorbed state
of consciousness which is intrinsically self-rewarding [4, 5]. This need varies
from one individual to another and, in some, the achievement of this state may
become an end in itself. Tellegen and Atkinson describe the origins and qualities
of what they call trait absorption.
Phenomena of this kind, while apparently overlooked by contemporary academic treatments
of attention, perception, and memory, have been described and discussed widely
in literature on meditation, expanded awareness, peak experiences, mysticism,
aesthetic experience, regression in the service of the ego, altered states of
consciousness, and in the literature on drug effects. For example, Maslow spoke
of the "fascination" and "complete absorption" that characterize
peak experiences . Schachtel, to whom Maslow refers, described the "allocentric"
perceptual mode as involving "totality of interest" [28, p.221], and
openness to the object in all its aspects with all one's senses, including one's
kinesthetic experience. We suggest, in a similar vein, that the attention described
in Absorption items is a "total" attention, involving a full commitment
of available perceptual, motoric, imaginative and ideational resources to a unified
representation of the attentional object (p.274).
The absorptive state favoured by those with high levels of trait absorption is
the likely basis for all 'flow' experiences. In this state of consciousness the
individual's attentional resources are focused in such a manner as to enter wholly
into whatever is in awareness, whether the focus be interoceptive or exteroceptive
. This totality of awareness on the side of the 'object' has been called by
Sartre and other phenomenologists 'unreflected' consciousness . Most of our
waking state is spent in 'reflected' consciousness in which attentional resources
are divided between the 'object' and 'self-as-object' so that we are simultaneously
experiencing the 'object' and ourselves doing the experiencing. It is in this
latter state that experience becomes memory and hence knowledge and it is also
in this state that we operate in what is generally understood to be our normal
linguistic, discursive mental processes which includes our usual awareness of
the passage of time .
further discriminates between the 'capacity' and 'opportunity' for 'absorption'
as determining whether individuals engage experiential states which are derived
from deploying attentional resources in this particular way . Further, the
'capacity' for engaging in 'absorptive' states has been standardized as a personality
construct and is therefore measurable as a scale (Absorption) on a self-administering
personality instrument - the Tellegen Differential Personality Questionnaire,
and this personality 'capacity' has been found to be able to successfully differentiate
levels of hypnotic susceptibility as well as frequency and type of reported spontaneous
mystical, visionary, and paranormal experiences [4, 32, 33, 34, 35, 47].
trait absorption may underlie what Weil has argued is a fundamental need in Homo
Sapiens across cultures and time: the drive to engage altered states of consciousness
for both ritualistic and creative developmental purposes . In traditional
societies, such as once existed amongst the Yakut of Siberia and the Australian
Aborigines, an individual with a strong natural proclivity for altered state experiences
would be, as a matter of course, chosen for a life-role as shaman or 'clever man'
[36, 37]. However, this role no longer exists in the developed countries of the
late Twentieth Century. Thus, individuals who possess high 'trait absorption'
and/or are inclined toward spontaneous 'absorptive' and trance experiences may
find themselves making a "deviant role exit" into alternative lifestyles,
such as the cannabis sub-culture, more frequently than those with less 'absorptive'
'capacity' in order to create greater 'absorptive' 'opportunity' [32, 38].
RECONCEPTUALIZATION OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TRAIT ABSORPTION AND AMOTIVATIONAL
In contrast to the view that cannabis is psychologically dangerous in itself,
Weil has argued that it should be understood to be what he calls an "active
placebo" . Weil describes an "active placebo" as "a substance
whose apparent effects on the mind are actually placebo effects in response to
minimal physiological action" (p. 95) rather than being a direct cause of
the psychological changes seen in users. This effect is attested to, empirically,
by the wide variety of responses individuals make to similar batches of cannabis
in similar situations. Weil's notion, based on hundreds of clinical observations,
led him to argue that it was highly unlikely that cannabis alone could be responsible
for the very varied psychological responses and effects which he observed. He
provides a useful insight into the reasons for the varied outcomes seen across
cannabis motivation studies.
Because marijuana is such an unimpressive pharmacological agent, it is not a very
interesting drug to study in a laboratory. Pharmacologists cannot get a handle
on it with their methods, and because they cannot see the reality of the nonmaterial
state of consciousness that users experience, they are forced to design experimental
situations very far removed from the real world in order to get measurable effects.
There are three conditions under which marijuana can be shown to impair general
psychological performance in laboratory subjects. They are: (1) by giving it to
people who have never had it before; (2) by giving people very high doses that
they are not used to (or giving it orally to people used to smoking it); and (3)
by giving people very hard things to do, especially things that they have never
had a chance to practise while under the influence of the drug. Under any of these
three conditions, pharmacologists can demonstrate that marijuana impairs performance
It has been argued that most altered states of consciousness, such as those produced
in hypnosis, meditation and ecstatic experiences, involve deployment of attention
in unique ways with a particular emphasis on the present [29, 40, 41]. This 'unreflected',
unselfconscious attentional state, which is focused primarily in the 'now', will,
whether induced by drugs or not, interfere with the normal memory processes associated
with the 'reflected' conscious state which is required for discursive thought
and logico-temporal activities usually associated with memory and task performance.
this paper would argue that any discussion of motivation and THC use (and its
relationship to memory acquisition and performance) must consider the possibility
that THC facilitates a free-floating 'absorptive' state which favours engagement
in spatial-metaphoric cognitive styles of the 'unreflected' 'here and now' style
of consciousness. This is partly confirmed by the findings of Fabian and Fishkin
who observe in their study of cannabis and 'trait absorption' that
...marijuana users, when asked to specifically reference the marijuana-high state,
report a greater number of absorbing experiences than when not specifically asked
to reference the marijuana state and when specifically asked to exclude all drug-related
experiences [42, p. 548].
It is thus possible that the apparent memory deficits associated with 'amotivational
syndrome' seen in individuals intoxicated with THC and, who are being required
to perform and attend to verbal, temporal, logico-deductive activities, are the
result of 'time-sharing' between the two states of 'reflected' and 'unreflected'
consciousness. The effect of this 'switching' is to disrupt the usual cognitive
and memory consolidation processes by constantly interrupting the continuity of
attention necessary for the completion of the memory process. This 'time-sharing'
can be conceptualised as a temporary and rapid movement out of the cannabis-induced
'unreflected' state of consciousness (absorptive state) into 'reflected' consciousness
when sufficient 'demand' is present calling the experient's attention to the temporal,
discursive information stream. As soon as demand falls below some critical threshold
required for attention, the 'unreflected' state resumes thus disrupting any on-going
consolidation and learning process. The laying down of short-term memory and the
ability to attend accurately to objective (clock) time require a certain level
of continuous background 'self-observation' and rehearsal - which is a central
part of 'reflected' state activity. Therefore, assigning the cause of memory deficits
measured in THC intoxicated individuals to the direct pharmacological action of
cannabis may be an attribution error with cannabis being primarily a catalyst
(active placebo) for these altered states which are the actual cause of the failure
to process discursive information in the usual way into long-term memory.
self-rewarding quality of this absorptive state will naturally lead to the cannabis
user preferentially returning to absorptive behaviours and cognitive styles over
and again. Of course, this will lead, no doubt, to a loss of concentration on
any performance task in process, thereby creating a background of anxiety associated
with the failure at whatever chore the cannabis user is currently engaged. Naturally,
this will facilitate further and more frequent returns to the absorptive state
since it will be experienced as rewarding and the demand of the performance activity
as aversive. No doubt, in time, the preference for the former state will lead
to a diminished capacity to perform in many areas of daily activity which would
likely cause considerable frustration in the experient. This state of affairs
will very likely lead, in time, to the generation of a sense of learned helplessness
which undoubtedly will exacerbate any depressive reaction or existing on-going
has argued that our natural proclivity for altered states of consciousness traditionally
has been facilitated in many cultures by the ingestion of psychoactive substances
such as marijuana and hashish . Although this drug 'high' was once accepted
as one in a range of possible states which humans might rightfully achieve, this
is certainly no longer the case in the West. Thus, the negative reporting, vis-à-vis
cannabis and performance, may now be reconceptualized as a value judgement regarding
the type of mental state and hence style of cognitive performance deemed useful
and proper by today's social standards. Put more directly, researchers are testing
cannabis users on tasks which represent current biases, thus allowing their research
to reflect the prejudices of their times. In other historical and cultural contexts
chemically and contemplatively induced altered states of consciousness have been
highly valued and it is arguable that most religious traditions have drawn their
deeper insights and inspiration from these experiences.
capacity of altered state experiences to open broader existential perspectives
and, hence, new life meanings appears to be part of a growth process intrinsic
to both spiritual and creative life. Further, it can be argued that these types
of altered state experiences are necessary in the facilitation of personal renewal
and the relief of psychological suffering. Although most of the major world religious
traditions have developed methods for achieving these altered states without the
use of pharmacological agents, in the age of 'high-tech' medicine, and in the
context of little social or religious support for those 'talented' in the production
of altered state experiences, the adoption of chemical substances and the attendant
association with deviant social groups for these ends should not be surprising.
psychiatrist Arthur Deikman suggests that the bifurcation of consciousness into
'observing' (objective - 'reflected') and 'experiencing' (receptive - 'unreflected')
selves is common for most people living in the West today . It is the denial
of the latter mode, the source of our capacity for mystical experience, which
is the basis of our current psycho-spiritual crisis and, arguably, the underlying
psychological cause of our destructive alienation from nature. He asserts that
without the cultivation of the 'experiencing self' we may fail to enter into mystical
awareness and therefore be unable to remedy the psychopathology innate to our
present condition. Thus, from the position advocated by Deikman and from the previous
discussion, the use of cannabis in our modern industrialized societies can be
reconceptualized away from the notion of a public health issue, to the understanding
that its use is deeply connected to the seeking of personal renewal or the fulfilment
of unmet spiritual needs, which users attempt to fulfil, albeit inadequately,
through ingesting the drug.
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