The recreational use of marijuana was initially legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012, after which many other states followed suit. Today, a total of 15 states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use while 36 legalized it on grounds of medical use (Berke et al., 2021). The medical use of marijuana refers to the use of the plant to address a medical condition. On the other hand, many people who use marijuana refer to themselves as recreational users. Recreational use can be conventionally defined as using marijuana for the purpose of relaxation or pleasure. While the recreational use of marijuana is becoming more widely accepted, it is important to note that it remains a controversial and contentious issue. One only has to look at the ongoing debate on cannabis legislation and the sheer amount of essays and research papers written about it in school. There is no doubt that medical marijuana is essential and benefits those whose treatment regimens include cannabis. The central question therefore is if the recreational use of marijuana is completely harmless or if there are some risks to it no matter how insignificant. Recreational marijuana: is it good or bad? There is no simple yes or no answer to this question; rather, the use of cannabis has benefits just as it has risks.
The recreational use of marijuana offers benefits to users, and among them is how it helps loosen inhibitions in social settings. Many people suffer anxiety when socializing. Socializing, however, is an almost unavoidable fact of life. It occurs in almost every setting, from classrooms filled with students to daily operations in the workplace. Marijuana eases this anxiety and helps people become more sociable. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence from cannabis users describing how marijuana influences them to speak freely among friends and loosen their social outlet, thereby allowing them to function well in social settings. But the proof extends beyond anecdotes. Multiple studies have shown that low doses of cannabidiol or CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol or THC have positive effects on social anxiety (Stoner, 2017). The findings of these studies suggest that as far as social anxiety is concerned, cannabis makes a difference desirable to people who experience this condition.
The finding that marijuana helps ease social anxiety is unsurprising, considering the fact that countless users swear to its effect on their moods in general. Cannabis has been used for centuries for leisure and experiencing its relaxing effect has always been among the main goals of those who use it. In the past, the prevailing image of a marijuana user is someone who fits the profile of a social deviant. People thought of users as stoners—young people who have trouble adjusting to life and spend their days getting high on cannabis. More recent studies, however, have debunked this assumption. Studies involving large numbers of cannabis users revealed that users come in every age and walk of life, many of whom surprisingly enough are just normal people encountered in daily life. One large study in California involving over 4,000 respondents yielded a wealth of evidence that cannabis can be used for recreation without adverse effects. The researchers found that:
In general, they [the respondents] have used it at modest levels and in consistent patterns which—anecdotally—often assisted their educational achievement, employment performance, and establishment of a more stable life-style. These data suggest that rather than acting as a gateway to other drugs…cannabis has been exerting a beneficial influence on most. (O’Connell & Bou-Matar, 2007)
Findings by such studies offer a different picture of the effect cannabis has on people’s lives. Largely seen as harmful, studies such as the one mentioned earlier debunk myths about marijuana and foreground the benefits that it can offer.
Another benefit of marijuana is its positive impact on creativity. Many people who use marijuana report experiencing a surge of creativity after smoking cannabis. The active ingredients in marijuana are known to heighten the senses. The sense of smell and taste, in particular, are known to become more acute following its use (Zolfagharifard, 2014). But many believe that its effect goes beyond heightening their senses. People see its use as enabling them to open up their minds, thus allowing them to unlock their creative potential. The science, however, is still on the fence when it comes to confirming this. One study found that low doses of THC did not have any effect on creativity. But the study’s more surprising finding is that high doses of THC actually led to the impairment of creativity among the participants (Kowal et al., 2015). The discrepancy between claims of marijuana’s positive effect on creativity and the findings of such studies presents a puzzle. A possible explanation for this discrepancy, though, is the speculation that the surge in creativity caused by cannabis as more a placebo effect than an actual result of a biochemical process.
While it is true that marijuana can offer benefits such as easing anxiety, promoting relaxation, and encouraging creativity, it is important to note that the science is far from simply black and white. Researchers caution that while cannabis may bring therapeutic value to some people, it can also be harmful to mental health conditions in others. For instance, some studies indicate that marijuana use can exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder, resulting in markedly severer affective episodes, more serious psychotic symptoms, and overall poorer functioning (Stoner, 2017). Some studies also identified a link between marijuana use and increased risk for mental illness among those who have genes identified as associated with mental illness (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], 2020). In other words, individuals who have genetic risk factors for mental illness may be negatively affected by cannabis rather than benefited by it. Such outcomes that go against new findings on recreational cannabis’ positive effects
When it comes to marijuana use, everyone is required to tread lightly. Though marijuana is now known to bring benefits to recreational users, the science is also clear that it can be harmful in certain conditions. Whether a person uses marijuana for recreation, medical, or creative process, the danger of experiencing adverse effects is present. Control in recreational marijuana use has to be observed in order to avoid any damaging consequences. Although there is nothing wrong with recreational marijuana use because of the many benefits it provides personally and socially, and given that it is even legal in many states, it is still important to note that marijuana is a substance that can cause negative effects in some cases. It is essential for users to have extensive knowledge of the drug and their own mental health history in order to make an informed decision whether or not it is wise to use marijuana even for recreation. After all, taking care of mental health requires knowing which substances benefit it and which substances do not.
Berke, J., Gal, S., & Lee Y. J. (2021). All the states where marijuana is legal — and 5 more that voted to legalize it in November. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/legal-marijuana-states-2018-1
Kowal, M. A., Hazekamp, A., Colzato, L. S., van Steenbergen, H., van der Wee, N. J., Durieux, J., Manai, M., & Hommel, B. (2015). Cannabis and creativity: highly potent cannabis impairs divergent thinking in regular cannabis users. Psychopharmacology, 232(6), 1123–1134. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-014-3749-1
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders? NIDA. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/there-link-between-marijuana-use-psychiatric-disorders
O’Connell, T. J. & Bou-Matar, C. (2007). Long term marijuana users seeking medical cannabis in California (2001–2007): demographics, social characteristics, patterns of cannabis and other drug use of 4117 applicants. Harm Reduction Journal, 4(16). doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-4-16
Stoner, S. A. (2017). Effects of marijuana on mental health: anxiety disorders. Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. https://adai.uw.edu/pubs/pdf/2017mjanxiety.pdf
Stoner, S. A. (2014). Effects of marijuana on mental health: bipolar disorder. Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. https://adai.uw.edu/pubs/pdf/2017mjbipolar.pdf
Zolfagharifard, E. (2014). Mystery of 'the munchies' revealed: Cannabis use heightens sense of smell and taste. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2555839/Mystery-munchies-revealed-Cannabis-use-heightens-sense-smell-taste.html