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Recreational Marijuana Use

Unproblematic Recreational Marijuana Use

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Updated June 14, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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. 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 has the ability 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 has the ability 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 in a social context -– it is not "needed" to induce relaxation, or carry out day-to-day functioning, such as stimulating the appetite, engaging in sexual activity, or completing bowel movements.

  • 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.

This final point can only really be achieved if marijuana is ingested rather than smoked, as smoke inhalation is always harmful.

Use of marijuana for medicinal purposes according to prescribed protocols would also be categorized as unproblematic marijuana use (although not recreational marijuana use), rather than abuse or addiction, even though daily use may be required, there may be long-term negative health effects, and use may appear compulsive. This is because the purpose of marijuana use for medicinal reasons is to alleviate the symptoms of a more debilitating condition, rather than to get high.

Unproblematic Recreational Marijuana Use Can Become Problematic

Although it is possible for some people to occasionally use marijuana without problems, marijuana users should be aware that unproblematic recreational marijuana use can quickly and unpredictably become problematic. This is particularly true if marijuana use coincides with difficult life events, triggers mental health problems, or becomes a maladaptive way of coping.

If you or someone you know crosses from recreational marijuana use to marijuana abuse or marijuana addiction, you should seek help as soon as possible.

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.

Despite what you may have heard, marijuana is not a harmless drug and can be a trigger for mental illness -– but getting help quickly will also increase the likelihood that treatment will be effective and long-lasting.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision, Fourth Edition, (Copyright 2000). American Psychiatric Association.

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.

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