Overlapping patterns of recreational and medical cannabis use in a large community sample of cannabis users

Compr Psychiatry. 2020 Oct;102:152188. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2020.152188. Epub 2020 Jun 6.


Background: Regulatory changes are increasing access to both medical cannabis and cannabis in general. As such, understanding patterns of recreational and medical cannabis use is a high public health priority.

Objectives: Patterns of cannabis use (recreational and medical), other substance use, and psychiatric symptoms were characterized in a large sample of community adult cannabis users in Canada, prior to federal cannabis legalization.

Methods: This was a self-report assessment of 709 cannabis users (Mean age = 30.19 (11.82) years; 55.01% female). Patterns of overall substance use and psychiatric symptomatology were compared based on recreational/medical cannabis status.

Results: Overall, 61.4% of participants endorsed exclusively recreational use, while 38.6% reported some level of medical use. Of all medical users, only 23.4% reported authorization from a health professional. Recreational cannabis users typically reported infrequent use (less than weekly), whereas medical users modally reported daily use. Compared to recreational users, medical users reported more problematic cannabis use in addition to greater psychiatric symptomatology (anxiety, depression and trauma). Interestingly, a large majority of medical users also reported using recreationally (80.6%), while exclusive medical use was less common (19.3%). This dual motives group reported more daily cannabis use and more alcohol and tobacco use. Compared to medical-only users, individuals using cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes more often used cannabis to treat psychiatric conditions.

Conclusions: These findings reveal the differences in cannabis use patterns and preferences between recreational and medical users, and even within medical users. In particular, dual motives individuals, who use cannabis for both positively and negatively reinforcing purposes, may warrant special attention as a subpopulation.

Keywords: Addiction; Anxiety; Attitudes; Cannabis; Depression; Marijuana; Pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cannabis*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Marijuana*
  • Motivation


  • Medical Marijuana