Characteristics of Recreational Marijuana Use

Models pose as recreational marijuana users
Getty Images

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

Characteristics of recreational marijuana use include:

  • Marijuana 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 marijuana user 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 marijuana user 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. 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 marijuan 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 abuse 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 are a marijuana user who has 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.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Association. 2013.
  • Beck, K., Caldeira, K., Vincent, K. et al. "The social context of cannabis use: Relationship to cannabis use disorders and depressive symptoms among college students." Addictive Behaviors 34:764–768. 2009.
  • Dragt, S., Nieman, D., Becker, H., et al. "Age of onset of cannabis use is associated with age of onset of high-risk symptoms for psychosis." Can J Psychiatry 55:65–171. 2010.
  • Fiestas, F., Radovanovic, M., Martins, S., Medina-Mora, M., Posada-Villa, J. and Anthony, J. "Cross-national differences in clinically significant cannabis problems: epidemiologic evidence from 'cannabis-only' smokers in the United States, Mexico, and Colombia." BMC Public Health 10:152. 2010.
  • Fischer, B., Rehm, J., Irving, H. et al. "Typologies of cannabis users and associated characteristics relevant for public health: a latent class analysis of data from a nationally representative Canadian adult survey." International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 19:110–124. 2010.