Estimated 5-minute read
Rolling a joint to relax at home, maybe with some friends, maybe with a weird movie, is a sacred ritual of many stoners, who like to enjoy weed without any fuzz; a harmless pastime that many people around the world are increasingly getting into, to the point that, for the first time in modern history, the consumption of cannabis has surpassed tobacco, and undoubtedly will continue to climb. Recipes calling for the use of weed as an ingredient are in vogue, and the amount of cool and useful accessories you can get today to enjoy some pot to your heart’s content is bigger than ever. So, with that, surely the attitude of people towards cannabis has changed, right?
Well… Not quite, but things are seemingly improving, and lots of the old stereotypes that have plagued consumers of cannabis have begun to fade away, although this process has been slow. After all, the legal bans and social stigma around smoking weed have produced some truly wild beliefs about stoners and getting away from them has been one of the biggest challenges of cannabis legalization everywhere: after decades of anti-weed propaganda, old habits die hard.
For example, did you know that one early belief about cannabis consumers was that it made them incredibly violent? Far away from the modern stereotype of the lazy and mellow stoner (more on that in a bit), a hundred years ago, in the decade of the 1920s, trying cannabis was seen as the start of a violent criminal life, as the “gateway drug” too dangerous substances, and the famous “Marihuana Tax Act”, which effectively destroyed the cannabis industry of the time, used this as a justification for the ban and criminalization of weed. But how did that change?
The gradual evolution of the stoner
As usual, we can blame Hollywood for this: as weed grew among the young counterculture of the Fifties and Sixties in the US, many movie producers realized the entertaining value of pot as a comedy plot device, and some of the first figures in the nascent genre of “stoner films” set the basis for everything that followed: the idea of weed users as sedentary and lazy people, which was a complete 180° turn from the criminal cannabis consumer that was prevalent at the time.
And that was because cannabis was becoming more popular, and this idea of a violent person who started by using weed was starting to be seen as the lie it was, so that image pretty soon fell by the wayside, even if the idea of it being the “gateway drug” for addictions to things like heroin and coke prevailed for a long time after that.
So it's no wonder that the pot community embraced this idea of the lazy stoner, if it also meant a friendlier image for this plant, less harmful than tobacco, and with the only danger being emptying the fridge before payday, which explains why this stereotype persisted for so long, being even popular today. And Hollywood embracing this easy (and far more marketable) image resulted in the stoner becoming a character type that could easily be identified; this writer’s namesake, Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoons, was a stoner through and through, even if the kid-oriented show couldn’t explicitly mention weed. Everyone got what his deal was just by his demeanor and looks, and eventually, we got the “slacker” archetype that became so ubiquitous in the 90s and early 2000s: The Dude from The Big Lebowski, Dale Denton from Pineapple Express, and Harold and Kumar from the eponymous film series are great examples of this modern conception of the stoner. But what, if anything, of this, is true?
Mythbusting the lazy stoner
We have talked before about how a new scientific approach to cannabis has begun to be taken seriously, and this has extended to more social and psychological areas. For example, in the e International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, a new study was recently published, looking into the truth behind these old stereotypes, also led by the King’s College of London.
Specifically, they were looking into the frequency of apathy and anhedonia (or the psychological inability to experience pleasure) among regular adult users of cannabis, running surveys on how likely the participants were to finish a project, learn new things, or experience a preference for delayed gratification. In fact, many cannabis users scored lower than their non-using counterparts, with a system of rewards consisting of candies and chocolates, that showed stoners more likely to put effort into a task to win (of course, we all know that offering food to a stoner out of their mind is likely getting you some results).
“We were surprised to see that there was really very little difference between cannabis users and non-users when it came to lack of motivation or lack of enjoyment, even among those who used cannabis every day," said Martine Skumlien, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge in a statement about this study. "This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies.”
One of the most important parts of this study was analyzing the different effects that cannabis can have in adults and adolescents (after all, the teen years of almost everyone are characterized by apathy and detachment, so it would be interesting to see if weed had any effect on this), and found nothing linking this state of mind with the enjoyment of a good joint, which really puts the old “lazy stoner” stereotype in danger. Or on a more serious note, it could be the start of science-backed de-stigmatization of cannabis consumption, an important challenge to the weed legislature that might impact the future of this plant.
So, while this is just the first of hopefully many studies looking into the actual reality of cannabis consumption, these findings are enticing, especially for those folks ostracized and harmed by negative stereotypes that paint a bad and untrue picture of weed that we need to leave behind. Weed still has a long road ahead, but with the scientific interest behind it, who knows what the future image of a stoner might be. Maybe that of normal people who find smoking cannabis a simple and nice pleasure that should be shared by everyone. We’ll see.