Why do people use weed?

Here are a few thoughts on a very big question.


We know that people take drugs for a lot of different reasons. Some to relax, others to escape, to experiment, or maybe to alleviate boredom. But understanding how people justify their drug use to themselves or others is an interesting topic to explore.

Often at NCPIC, we hear arguments about the benefits of using weed while ignoring associated harms of long term use, such as weed is a naturally occurring plant and it s been used as medicine for centuries, so I don t see any reason why I shouldn t get high. This is known as misrepresenting the harmful consequences of an action, and people use it to justify actions all the time.

Cannabis is a plant and yes, it may in fact be used to help manage certain medical conditions or pain, but to solely focus on those points, means ignoring the range of potential harms that may also exist. Potential harms like the fact breathing smoke of any kind is damaging to lung tissue, or that prolonged use may affect memory, learning or motivation these are issues smokers need to weigh up and consider as objectively as possible. It is not difficult to understand why people tend to focus on the information that supports their behaviour, and ignore any information that doesn t.

So what are some of the more common ways people use snippets of information in order to justify their habit? Here are just a few examples we have been given when we ask the question Why do people use weed?

Why do people use weed? It s not as bad as alcohol

Often people use an advantageous comparison to justify a behaviour; meaning they compare their actions to other activities which make the first look like a better option. This might sound something like at least I m not smoking cigarettes, smoking weed is nowhere near as bad for you as alcohol, or I had a few bongs on the weekend, but it s not like I was taking heroin! Obviously these comparisons are not very balanced or useful when you take a step back, each of those substances mentioned has its own associated harms, which aren t lessened just because they are compared with another substance.

One regular user recently told NCPIC that smoking cannabis might give me emphysema, but it s not going to give me cancer. Unfortunately, in this comparison it is difficult to find the advantage It is also important to know that cannabis smoke, like any smoke, can cause harm.

Why do people use weed? Everyone does it!

Back when I was young everyone used to smoke pot and it was no big deal! If everyone in a group is doing something, does that make it ok or less harmful? Displacing or diffusing responsibility can be a tool used to place blame for an action on the group rather than the individual. If a group acts together it can mean no single person feels responsible for the action. We can see this type of justification for behaviour used frequently in business or political contexts, where blame for a negative action is publically spread among a broader group.

By now it s pretty obvious that the kinds of justifications listed here aren t just used to explain drug use, but they occur in all kinds of situations so people are able to feel they have made the right choices. These are pretty common and natural methods for people to explain their actions on a regular basis. They might even just be a way of explaining an individual s actions to themselves in their own head.

Another recent comment from the same regular cannabis user was I ll use it (cannabis) until it starts to have a negative impact on my life. When I see that it does have a negative impact, then I ll just stop. The problem is, of course, being able to identify when it is having a negative impact on your own life. And when a person has been misrepresenting the harmful consequences, making advantageous comparisons or diffusing responsibility about their cannabis use for some time, identifying when it is having a negative impact on their own life will be an extremely difficult analysis to make accurately.