Characteristics of Recreational Marijuana Use

Hands of woman rolling marijuana joint

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Recreational marijuana use involves using cannabis for personal enjoyment rather than for health purposes. The recreational use of marijuana can be contrasted with medical marijuana use, which involves the prescribed use of cannabis to manage the symptoms of some medical conditions.

Characteristics of recreational marijuana use include:

  • Infrequent use: 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.
  • No compulsion to use: 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.
  • Using small amounts: The person is easily able to use only a small amount of marijuana with a mild effect, with no particular desire to "get stoned."
  • Using in social settings: 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.
  • Low investment: 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.

While recreational marijuana use is often believed to not lead to negative health effects, it is important to remember that smoke inhalation is always harmful. Marijuana has also been linked to cognitive problems, breathing issues, cancer, and other possible health issues.

Recreational marijuana use is generally understood to be the use of marijuana for enjoyment rather than for medicinal purposes.

However, it is important to recognize that even recreational marijuana use may present health risks. It is also possible for recreational use to unexpectedly turn into a cannabis use disorder.

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.

Recreational 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 recreational marijuana use can become unpredictable and problematic.

According to the CDC, approximately one in 10 people who use marijuana will develop an addiction. That number increases to one in six among people who start using the drug before the age of 18.

Unfortunately, people often believe that they can use addictive substances without becoming addicted to them. This can be particularly true when people are using substances recreationally. However, it is important to remember that addiction can strike unexpectedly. No one likes to think that they will develop a cannabis use disorder, and they are often surprised when their drug use turns into an addiction.

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.

  2. CDC. Health effects. Updated February 27, 2018.

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