Characteristics of Recreational Marijuana Use

Many people who use marijuana describe themselves as recreational users to indicate that although they use marijuana, they are not addicted and don't have other problems associated with drug use.

Hands of woman rolling marijuana joint
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Characteristics of recreational marijuana use include:

  • Use is very occasional, and is not a regular or frequent way of spending one’s time; more time is spent on other activities that are considered more important.
  • The person is easily able to decide to use or not use marijuana when it is available and freely offered; there is no particular compulsion to use.
  • The person is easily able to use only a small amount of marijuana with a mild effect, with no particular desire to "get stoned."
  • The use of marijuana is purely recreational, and only happens in social situations; it is not "needed" to help the person relax or to get through their day, and they don't need to use marijuana to do things like stimulate their appetite, get in the mood for sex, or have a bowel movement.
  • Excessive amounts of money are not spent on marijuana, and other essential purchases, such as food, household bills, and clothing, are not sacrificed in favor of marijuana.
  • Marijuana is not used in a way that can cause short- or long-term negative health effects (only relevant to edible marijuana use, as smoke inhalation is always harmful).

Non-problematic or recreational marijuana use is generally understood to be the use of marijuana without any negative consequences for the user or for other people.

Is Medical Marijuana Recreational?

The purpose of using medical marijuana is to alleviate symptoms (such as pain) of a health condition rather than to get high.

Even though daily use may be required, there may be long-term negative health effects, and use may appear compulsive, the use of medical marijuana according to prescribed protocols would be categorized as unproblematic marijuana use rather than misuse or addiction.

Unproblematic Recreational Marijuana Use Can Become Problematic

There are many myths about marijuana. Despite what you may have heard, marijuana is not a harmless drug. For one, it can be a trigger for mental illness.

Although it is possible for some people to occasionally use marijuana without developing substance use problems, users should be aware that unproblematic recreational marijuana use can quickly and unpredictably become problematic.

Marijuana use may be more likely to be problematic if it coincides with difficult life events, mental health problems, or becomes a maladaptive way of coping.

The same is true if you use marijuana and have experienced negative effects of marijuana, particularly extreme changes in mood, perception (the way you see and hear things), and ideas about yourself or other people (especially significant changes in the way you see yourself or thoughts that others are watching you).

If you or someone you know crosses from recreational marijuana use to cannabis use disorder, you should seek help as soon as possible. Getting help quickly will increase the likelihood that treatment will be effective and long-lasting.

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  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know. Updated November 2019.

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