Background: Despite its increasing prevalence and acceptance among the general public, cannabis use continues to be viewed as an aberrant activity in many contexts. However, little is known about how stigma associated with cannabis use affects individuals who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes (CTP) and what strategies these individuals employ to manage associated stigma. The aim of this Canadian study was to describe users' perceptions of and responses to the stigma attached to using CTP.
Methods: Twenty-three individuals who were using CTP for a range of health problems took part in semi-structured interviews. Transcribed data were analyzed using an inductive approach and comparative strategies to explore participants' perceptions of CTP and identify themes.
Results: Participant experiences of stigma were related to negative views of cannabis as a recreational drug, the current criminal sanctions associated with cannabis use, and using cannabis in the context of stigmatizing vulnerability (related to existing illness and disability). Strategies for managing the resulting stigma of using CTP included: keeping CTP 'undercover'; educating those who did not approve of or understand CTP use; and using cannabis responsibly.
Conclusions: Understanding how individuals perceive and respond to stigma can inform the development of strategies aimed at reducing stigma associated with the use of CTP and thereby address barriers faced by those using this medicine.