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Is utility maximization compromised by acute intoxication with THC or MDMA?


  • Bedi, Gillinder
  • Burghart, Daniel R.


This report presents results from a within-subject, randomized, placebo-controlled experiment in which healthy participants were orally administered delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; 10mg/70kg), the main psychoactive component of cannabis, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; 1.5mg/70kg), the main psychoactive component of ‘ecstasy’ and ‘molly’, and placebo across three sessions. While intoxicated, participants chose between monetary payment and social time, defined as access to their phone and pre-specified social internet sites like Facebook. The design of the experiment made possible an assessment of the acute effects of THC and MDMA on adherence to the generalized axiom of revealed preference (GARP), a necessary and sufficient condition for maximization of a well-behaved utility function. Choices made under the influence of THC, MDMA, and placebo were all GARP compliant. Thus, even when participants were acutely intoxicated with THC or MDMA, their choices remained consistent with the tenets of neoclassical choice theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Bedi, Gillinder & Burghart, Daniel R., 2018. "Is utility maximization compromised by acute intoxication with THC or MDMA?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 171(C), pages 128-132.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolet:v:171:y:2018:i:c:p:128-132
    DOI: 10.1016/j.econlet.2018.06.021

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Varian, Hal R, 1982. "The Nonparametric Approach to Demand Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 945-973, July.
    2. Gross, John, 1995. "Testing Data for Consistency with Revealed Preference," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(4), pages 701-710, November.
    3. Afriat, S N, 1973. "On a System of Inequalities in Demand Analysis: An Extension of the Classical Method," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(2), pages 460-472, June.
    4. Daniel Burghart & Paul Glimcher & Stephanie Lazzaro, 2013. "An expected utility maximizer walks into a bar..," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 46(3), pages 215-246, June.
    5. William T. Harbaugh & Kate Krause & Timothy R. Berry, 2001. "GARP for Kids: On the Development of Rational Choice Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1539-1545, December.
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    More about this item


    Rationality; Utility maximization; GARP; THC; MDMA;

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments


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