Cannabis, Social Stigma, and the Reality of Stereotypes




If there is one thing modern society seems to hate almost universally, it is stereotypes. No one wants to be pegged to a particular stereotype. Yet the human brain cannot help but create and adhere to a stereotypical understanding of other people. A recent cannabis study, and the reactions to it, illustrate the point perfectly.

The study in question reveals that the majority of cannabis users could be classified as ‘stoners’ in the sense that they use the drug on a daily basis. However, the rest of the stoner stereotype does not necessarily fit. Moreover, the stoner stereotype may be contributing to the ongoing stigma associated with both recreational and medical cannabis use.


  • More About the Study


Research conducted by Colorado-based BDSA revealed some interesting things about cannabis use. First and foremost, some 62% of those who use inhalable cannabis products are daily users. It is assumed that inhalable use covers smoking, dry heating, and vaping.

In terms of when they use, recreational consumers partake of cannabis during the evening hours at a rate of about 60%. Yet 30% partake during the day. All of this lends credence to the stoner stereotype of using every single day regardless of circumstances. But let us not stop there. Here are a few more statistics to set the table:

  • 80% of daily users have some college education
  • 50% have full-time jobs
  • 40% are over the age of forty.

Reactions to the study are curious in regard to the three statistics listed above. It is as though we don’t expect college educated people or full-time employees to use cannabis. After all, they aren’t supposed to be stoners. But isn’t such thinking just as stereotypical as the stoner stereotype itself?


  • Class and Education Level


The study itself makes a distinction among cannabis users according to social class and education level. But really, what does either one have to do with being a stoner? Very little. At the end of the day, cannabis users come from all walks of life. The fact that people are surprised by how many educated people use cannabis shows that we apply stereotypes to that group.

Truth be told, we apply stereotypes to every group of people we encounter. It is how the human brain works. We recognize groups of people with certain common traits. The majority of people in each of those groups tends to act a certain way. There are exceptions and not every person in a particular group is identical, but they all share certain traits.


  • Stereotypes and Cannabis Stigma


One of the more intriguing aspects of the BDSA study analysis is a suggestion to redefine what a stoner actually is. If our current perceptions of stoners being young dropouts who don’t do anything but sit around and get high is only adding to the stigma associated with cannabis use, maybe a new definition is in order.

Cannabis stigma certainly is a problem within the medical arena, especially among new patients. Utah Marijuana is an organization that, among other things, is working hard to eliminate the cannabis stigma through education and advocacy. They believe that changing societal perceptions is critical to developing the full potential of the plant as a medicine.

The BDSA study is eye-opening for anyone who assumes that the stereotypical cannabis user is a spaced-out young person whose entire life revolves around getting high. But if you get beyond the stoner stereotype, the study also reveals the natural human tendency to stereotype all sorts of people. Stereotyping is normal and natural. It is how our brains cope with having to interact with so many people.