Study: Frequent Marijuana Users Make Riskier Decisions

Jacqueline Collins
If you smoke a lot of pot, you might find yourself in trouble at the blackjack table, according to a newly released study from Oregon State University.

Using a card simulation where participants try to earn as much money as possible by choosing from different decks, the study found that participants who used marijuana at least five times a week in the past year were prone to choosing decks with large rewards but larger losses, leading them to have a low net score for the task. Those who reported minimal to no use of marijuana chose decks with small rewards and small losses, but scored a high net score by the end of the task, researchers note.

Dr. Anita Cservenka, one of the researchers in the study, believes the card simulation reflects how frequent marijuana users make decisions in their day-to-day lives.

“Choosing decks with large rewards and large losses indicate that frequent marijuana users are more attracted to the reward stimuli in their brains, and are more insensitive to potential negative consequences,” she says. “This leads to implications for those substance use habits and how it affects their daily life decisions.”

The correlation between frequent marijuana use and risky decision-making becomes a never-ending cycle, Cservenka adds. Those who smoke marijuana frequently want to stimulate the reward system in their brain, she argues, and eventually become insensitive to potential negative consequences. This may lead to continuing to smoke frequently in order to reward that stimuli, and ignoring any negative effects of smoking long-term.

“Frequent marijuana users may be driven more by rewards rather than losses,” she says. “It’s a never-ending cycle of wanting to reward that stimuli, using marijuana to do so, and being insensitive to the negative consequences that come with that."

However, Cservenka adds that it's "too early" to know the full scope about the long-term effects of smoking frequently, and that researchers "may not know negative, long-term effects until more studies come out.”

Oregon State is currently conducting other studies to learn how frequent marijuana use affects people. Current ongoing studies include looking at how cannabis and alcohol use can affect emotional processing, and researching the association between cannabis users and how they respond to stress.

“I’ve always been interested in how different forms of substances affect decision-making skills,” Cservenka explains. “There’s not a lot of work done on correlation between cannabis and decision-making, and looking at these factors is important in understanding how cannabis use can affect users long-term.”
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.