JUN 13, 2024 11:05 PM PDT

Why Do Young Americans Use Recreational Cannabis?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Researchers investigated the leisure motivations behind cannabis use among young Americans. The corresponding study was published in the Journal of Leisure Research.

Perceptions towards cannabis have shifted in recent years as its legal status has changed. As of March 2024, 24 states and the District of Columbia had legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use. Increased legalization has naturally coincided with increased use. The proportion of young adults reporting past-year cannabis use increased to 43% in 2021 from 34% in 2016 and 29% in 2011. 

However, due to cannabis's long period of criminalization, research is scarce on the leisure motivations that underly its use. In the current study, researchers conducted 16 in-depth interviews with young adults living in states where recreational cannabis has been legalized.

The participants suggested that cannabis offers a 'leisure state of mind', including the experience of flow, relaxation, and a meditative state. They also said that it represents a leisure pursuit reserved for free time, and that the 'act of getting high' serves as a leisure activity in of itself, and an accompaniment to other leisure activities such as 'going to the movies'. They noted that feelings of enjoyment, engaging in humor and enhancing senses are among its pleasurable outcomes. 

"Under prohibitory regulations, recreational cannabis use has been explicitly framed as deviant, criminal, harmful, life-wrecking, and void of any potentially desirable leisure qualities (e.g., pleasure, socialization). This study showcases the cannabis users' understanding of cannabis as normative recreation and the anticipated leisure benefits," said study author Iulia Fratila, PhD, Assistant Professor in George Mason University's College of Public Health, in a press release.

"However, this is a cautionary tale because these desirable qualities may be easily exploited. More specifically, society may be facing a new conundrum with the commercialization of recreational cannabis as the switch from criminalization to commercialization overly simplifies and glamorizes the leisure meanings of cannabis for profitable gain," she added.

Fratila said that the findings could be used in public health and drug education efforts as laws and attitudes change around cannabis. She further noted that efforts need to be made to monitor how cannabis is 'repositioned and accommodated', and that health promotion efforts that minimize related harms and maximize well-being will be especially important. 


Sources: EurekAlert, Journal of Leisure Research

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets.
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