Is All Cannabis Use Self-Medication?

blotto with cannabis

Recently I was invited to be on a panel about cannabis use for seniors. In an email exchange with one of the organizers I asked, “Are you referring to recreational or medicinal use?” The response I received back was unexpected. She said, “I see no reason to treat medical and recreational differently. Everyone is using cannabis for medicine whether they realize it or not.”

Really? I have been pondering her response ever since. Seems like this concept has gained traction as a cannabis-culture meme.

First of all, I think her response has something to do with the fact of living in Washington State where both adult-use and medical are legal. What I mean is . . . probably in the 10 states and DC that have legality for both, more people are using cannabis, in general, than in medical-only states. That’s pretty obvious.

But what’s not so obvious, to me, anyway, is the thought that ALL of these users are using cannabis in an attempt to get better in their own way. That would include those using cannabis products containing an extremely high percentage of THC, say 15+ percent and smoking/using it several times a day and others who go ‘blotto’ to the extent of becoming non-functional on a regular basis.

Self-medicating? Interesting but I’m not so sure it’s true.

I guess it depends on how you define self-medicating. The online Cambridge Dictionary defines it as: “to take medicine or drugs to help you with a condition without asking a doctor”

If someone determines to help a condition they experience by using cannabis, wouldn’t they also want to learn the best ways to use it to accomplish that?

If they don’t have a conscious intent to use cannabis to help their health and wellbeing, and consistently use more than necessary to do so, is that an act of medication or potential self-destruction?

Do we give unconscious use of cannabis a high-five pass because it’s cannabis whereas we might not if it were alcohol?

Where do addictive personality traits enter the conversation?

Is the blank-check assertion of self-medication instead cover for denial? Here are some indicators of possible cannabis addiction:

1. Tolerance and withdrawal
2. Using more than intended
3. Unable to cut down or stop use
4. Lots of time spent getting high
5. Reduced activities
6. Continuing to get high despite the problems it causes
7. Using it to escape from problems
8. Depending on it to be creative or to relax or enjoy yourself
9. Choosing relationships and activities based on whether or not you will be able to get high
10. An inability to attend to daily responsibilities


I have more questions than answers at this point. But what I know for certain is that cannabis is an amazing and beneficial plant and that I am committed to learning and sharing its whole story. In my world every story has at least two sides. Methinks those who paint something as being all one way, may possibly have something to gain by doing so.

3 Responses to “Is All Cannabis Use Self-Medication?”

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  1. A most meaningful exploration of a large grey area in the cannabis users community. As I see it, raising the question generally is the most important element of the discussion, not the answer that arises. The value is in each individual’s awareness who may not yet be sure why they want cannabis in their lives on a regular basis. There is no right answer only room for greater personal inquiry and refinement of use.

    • Susan Boskey says:

      Well said. Thank you, Nancy. I received an email response from someone in Colorado that I think adds to what you shared. “Know your body and Tolerability and do the home work to live a whole and healthy life….And in doing so recognize the difference of healthy recreational, medicinal and or escape.”

  2. Robert says:

    I use a different framework. My context is that whatever the individual circumstance, they use any of the countless forms and attributes of cannabis in order to feel better, either physically or emotionally and mentally. Cannabis can help a lot of people feel better, some short term, some long term. The overlay of “addiction” vs “health benefits” is, in my opinion, to miss the point. I steer clear of stigmatizing using marijuana to go unconscious and numb out as wrong, but rather as massive pain management, not so different from using it to manage the pain associated with recovery from surgery. Can it be used addictively like coffee or sugar or TV or texting or tobacco or alcohol? Of course. The long term effect of using it for easing emotional pain are well known. But that it a separate conversation. I’m not sure, but there might be a parallel conversation about the use of fermentation for health and nutrition vs intoxication and addiction. I appreciate the conversation.

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