Cannabis has been used for centuries as a part of nearly every culture that has existed. Much like fermenting different substances to create alcohol, human civilization took to the cannabis plant since the time it could identify it and find a way to consume it.
That cannabis has been used throughout history isn’t, in itself, enough to call its psychoactive effects medicinal, but perhaps the way people use it, and how they feel about it, is. Cannabis has been more and more accepted as a medical drug in the last several years with many countries changing regulation to not only open up medical cannabis treatments for their residents, but to use the burgeoning market to increase overall revenue. The list of medical conditions that are generally approved across countries for treatment with cannabis range from cancer treatments, to use with neurodegenerative diseases, to help with spastic conditions like epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, to pain management medication, to stress relief and help with insomnia.
Cannabis, or its constituent parts, is also more and more being used for PTSD and other forms of anxiety. It is even being looked at as an anti-depressant. So, if we already expect it to be used to change (and improve) the wellbeing and mindset of a person, and if we already accept this idea in the anti-depressants on the market, why is there a line drawn for where medical benefits end and recreational effects begin? Doesn’t seem like it exists in any logical or rational way.
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First off, who is smoking?
A July 2019 Gallup poll found that approximately 12% of US adults smoke marijuana regularly. This statistic has been consistent for the last several years. However relevant or accurate these statistics are, the following are some of the other findings from that poll.
- 15% of men smoke vs 9% of women.
- 22% of smokers are 10-29.
- 11% of smokers are between 30-49.
- 12% of smokers are between 50-64
- 3% of smokers are 65+
- Liberals are the biggest smokers at 24%, followed by moderates at 12%, and then conservatives at 4%.
- 13-16% of adults living in in the West, Midwest, and East smoke, whereas only 7% from the South smoke.
- Caucasians make up the biggest racial group at 14%, with non-Caucasian making up 9%.
This leaves out those who are under 18. According to datacenter statistics, 7% of kids aged 12-17 used cannabis in 2017-2018.
Why are people smoking?
In 2018, a survey into adult cannabis use was taken which incorporated 16,280 US adults. The people who were in the study got there by responding to a statement, for which 55% of people presented with it, did. The survey was about perceived risks and benefits of smoking marijuana, and the results included the following points:
- 14.6% of respondents said they smoked marijuana in the past year.
- 81% of respondents believe cannabis has beneficial qualities, whereas 17% did not.
- The 3rd most common reason among participants for using marijuana was for anxiety, stress, and depression.
(Though this has no bearing on the subject of this article, 91% of respondents believed there is at least one risk involved with smoking, and nearly 52% of the time, the main risk cited was legal issues!)
This is mirrored by a 2017 survey by Marist College Institute for Public Opinion which found that 52% of Americans have tried marijuana, 22% currently smoke it, and 14% smoke it regularly. According to the Family/Lifestyle key polling points of the study: “While the pluralities of Americans and those who have tried marijuana, 37% respectively, say marijuana’s greatest benefit is that it can help with some medical problems, those who use it do so for many reasons. 29% of marijuana users say the greatest benefit of use is that it reduces anxiety or stress, and another 27% think it helps manage medical problems.”
This is echoed under the Health Risks key points: “The greatest benefit Americans see in the use of marijuana is that it has a positive effect in the management of medical problems or conditions, 37%. 33% of regular users describe the greatest benefit of marijuana as its potential to reduce stress and anxiety.”
Notice that in both sections, cannabis is spoken about to manage anxiety and stress both medically and non-medically.
In yet another survey compiled by Miss Grass of 1000 people, over 95% were smokers (as it was technically geared toward them), of which 65% smoke daily, 20% weekly, and 15% monthly. When it came to why people smoke, here is the breakdown given:
- 37% wanted a functional high
- 33% wanted a relaxing high
- 18% wanted a giggly high
- 12% wanted to get super high
In all cases, it was the desire to alter the state of mind that led people to smoke, with an entire third saying they specifically wanted to relax, and the other 2/3 still wanting something that sounds like feeling better, regardless of whether we’re talking medically or not. In fact, think of what a functional high means. It doesn’t mean being blown out of one’s mind, or being completely out of it. It implies being the same person who feels a little better.
Yet another study was conducted in 2019 on marijuana use for medical conditions. This study had 169,036 participants, 52% of which were female. Adults with medical conditions were more likely to report their usage. The conditions people had that came up the most were “asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, cancer, and depression.” One of the primary reasons given was to treat depression, and help a person feel better.
In the write-up for the study, under the part for assessing why people use cannabis, it says how participants were asked to describe their marijuana use reasons by answering the following: “When you used marijuana or hashish during the past 30 days, was it for medical reasons to treat or decrease symptoms of a health condition, or was it for non-medical reasons to get pleasure or satisfaction (such as: excitement, to ‘fit in’ with a group, increased awareness, to forget worries, for fun at a social gathering)?” Participants were classified into 3 groups on the basis of their response: medical reasons, nonmedical reasons, and both.”
Unless I’m completely mistaken, the recreational value of cannabis, is seen nearly exactly as the stress/anxiety reducing and depression management part of it. In fact, even people without stated medical conditions, are using it to ‘forget worries’, to have fun, to get pleasure and/or satisfaction. These sound like the exact same reasons for using it medically.
Why the separation?
When looking at how people write about cannabis, there seems to be a lot of confusion about where the line is drawn between recreational and medical when it comes to certain things. For some conditions like multiple sclerosis or chronic pain, it’s more clear cut, but when looking at issues involving anxiety, stress, depression, and generally feeling better (anything to do with a person’s mental state), the line is very much blurred, with both sides essentially claiming the same thing. So, is there a difference between trying to feel better when a doctor has told you it’s okay, and trying to feel better when no doctor has made an assessment? And is there a difference between trying to feel better everyday vs trying to feel better in an isolated event? If we allow that the psychoactive effect of cannabis helps people feel better, and that feeling better is a medical benefit, then why are we penalized for trying to use this psychoactive benefit on our own, and how we choose?
Sometimes it seems like way more of a holdover from the illegalization of marijuana in general. And with all the confusion and overlap in definitions, it becomes even weirder to be so forceful about not letting people feel better on their own (especially as this form of feeling better doesn’t lead to the kind of addiction that brings people to the point of prostitution, burglary, or death. And these points are pretty well understood at this juncture). Could it be a last ditch effort to hold off the industry so that major corporations can get a handle on it before mom and pops can steal the entire show? Maybe. The one thing for sure is, there’s no sense to how the separation between medicinal and recreational cannabis is made, with both sides often using the same definitional language to describe what a person will get out of it.
For now, the separation stands in nearly any place a person goes. Medicinal is one thing, recreational, something else. Even as the definitions blur, governments have been holding dearly – for whatever reason – to their illegalization of THC, even as the idea of feeling better has become the biggest reason to use the plant for anyone – medically or not. As more and more people use it to simply feel better, perhaps the question of how the psychoactive effect is so completely demonized when it does so much good for how a person feels, might finally be addressed. And, along with that, why it is that anyone should be told they can’t have access to something that won’t hurt them, especially when it has the ability to offer a way to feel better in life.
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