Are We There Yet? – Stereotypes of Cannabis

Nicholas looks into the stereotypes cannabis users face and how these perpetrate stigmas for consuming cannabis. The ramifications of misinformation continues to benefit critics of cannabis but we are starting to see these untruths fall to the way side.

Cannabis users face a multitude of stigmas stemming from the stereotypes society has cultivated through propaganda.  The belief that cannabis makes you lazy, lethargic and more likely to consume illicit drugs, has been the main talking points for critics of cannabis, heavily suggesting its legalisation will incur severe consequences for a productive society.  These beliefs appear to have been on the decline, as extensive studies reveal how successful cannabis is in treating a variety of medical conditions. There has also been a steadily documented change in public perceptions. 

The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs carried out a study where over 1,000 participants who take legal marijuana were evaluated.  65% of the respondents said they took cannabis for pain treatment and 80% found cannabis to be helpful with other ailments.  Of the 1,000 subjects, 82% reduced or removed consumption of over-the-counter medication and 88% stated they were able to eliminate taking opioid painkillers entirely.  Cannabis was found to help 74% of respondents with their sleep issues, further demonstrating that insomnia and chronic pain are two of the most prevalent medical conditions that adults suffer from and medicinal cannabis has proven to be of major benefit in treating these afflictions without unnecessary side effects.[1]   The therapeutic qualities of cannabis have harnessed progressive communication as the health of each country’s citizens is imperative to each respective government, laying waste to stereotypes of the drug that kept open discussion from forming for so long.

As research on the plant continues to develop a general collective understanding, stereotypes cultivated through misinformation and propaganda are now being debunked.  The classic depiction of the lazy, unemployed stoner who engages in criminal activity is fuelled by the heavily politicised nature of marijuana reform.  Though studies show that even in the wake of legalisation, these stereotypes are still rampant within conservative news outlets. 

In a report published by consumer insights firm Green Horizons, cannabis consumption is primarily done alone, despite perceptions of it being a party drug. The report outlined that 6 in 10 users consume cannabis unaccompanied, with 87% smoking occasionally by themselves.  The report also found that cannabis users were more likely to be more health-conscious than their counterparts.  While this may be common within the cannabis community, it remains unknown to the public who deem drug users as irresponsible with their wellbeing.  Medicinal cannabis users are said to be “morelikely than recreational users to say that seeking/using natural or holistic remedies and staying informed about topics related to health and wellness play a big role in their life.”  The report notes, “This is consistent with findings from another study, conducted at the University of Colorado – Boulder, which found that cannabis users were exceeding the recommended amount of physical activity in comparison to non-users.”[2]

The reliance on stereotypes to dismiss cannabis benefits has always been an ethical issue.  The most harmful instances of stereotyping originate from racial profiling, where minorities are depicted as the forefront of cannabis culture and therefore, are involved in criminal activity.  The images used by news organisations often negatively depict usage, with more conservative outlets less likely to depict recreational cannabis as normal.  ‘Stock Images’ often showing a delinquent smoking a joint are one of many examples of the media using adverse imagery to reinforce the current representation of cannabis users, despite the prevailing shift in cannabis culture.  The middle classes are engaging in cannabis use more than ever compared to 20 years ago, when it was predominantly consumed by the working class.  This is a change mainstream media outlets are inclined to ignore, as it moves away from the narrative of cannabis usage only occurring within unemployed individuals residing in high crime, low-income environments. 

The most commonly known stereotype is that all cannabis users are unmotivated and lazy. The stoner mentality portrayed in film and television has laid way for the slow thinking, slow responding comedic relief character, often associated with cannabis usage.  In reality, these characteristics do not hold weight. More and more people demonstrate that they can consume cannabis regularly and be successful and motivated.  In some cases, cannabis is shown to help professional athletes in medicinal form.   A study published in 2019 by Colorado University Boulder shed light on cannabis usage and exercise.  Their findings were that 80% of users combine weed with their workout regimen.  8 out of every 10 people in states where cannabis is legal stated they used cannabis shortly before or after exercising with the majority citing cannabis as a motivator in working out or during the workout. [3]

Another common misconception is that cannabis users are uneducated and unsuccessful.  More students are using cannabis to help them with their studies than ever before, from enhancing creativity to reducing anxiety and stress caused by exams and projects in the new remote learning atmosphere.  Cannabis is universally seen as a safer option compared to pharmaceutical drugs commonly used during exam times and periods of study related stress.

As the world moves towards marijuana legalisation, it is up to the media to reinforce or debunk cannabis myths through careful consideration of how to appropriately illustrate the issue.  Media representation influences how audiences draw conclusions about the drug, allowing those who judge the character of the user to continue the stigmatisation of cannabis. 




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