Becoming a medical marijuana user

Int J Drug Policy. 2018 Feb;52:62-70. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2017.11.018. Epub 2017 Dec 13.


Background: Since marijuana became legal for medical use in California in 1996, reasons for medical use among medical marijuana patients (MMP) have become increasingly well described in qualitative studies. However, few studies have detailed how the use of marijuana for medical purposes fits into the broader career trajectories of either becoming a marijuana user or becoming a MMP, including the social influences on medical use.

Methods: Young adult MMP (N=40) aged 18 to 26 years old were recruited in Los Angeles, CA in 2014-15 and administered a semi-structured interview that included questions focusing on marijuana use practices before and after becoming MMP.

Results: MMP were categorized into three trajectory groups: primarily medical users (n=30); primarily non-medical users (n=3); and medical users who transitioned to non-medical users (n=7). Most medical users discovered medicinal effects from marijuana in the context of non-medical use as adolescents prior to becoming MMP. Becoming a mature MMP followed interactions with dispensary staff or further self-exploration of medical uses and often involved a social process that helped confirm the legitimacy of medical use and identity as a medical user. In some cases, MMP transitioned back to non-medical users as health conditions improved or remained primarily non-medical users even after becoming MMP for reasons unrelated to health, e.g., protection against arrest.

Conclusion: Becoming a medical marijuana user was an important career trajectory that was influenced by early discoveries of effective medicinal use, interaction with proponents of medical use at dispensaries, experiences with new kinds of medical use, and the demands of particular health condition requiring more or less treatment with marijuana.

Keywords: Medical marijuana; Qualitative research; Young adults.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Los Angeles / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Medical Marijuana / administration & dosage*
  • Young Adult


  • Medical Marijuana