Cannabis Made Clear

Why Do Some People Choose to Consume Cannabis While Others Do Not?

Puff or pass? Explore common motivations behind the choice to consume — or to abstain from — cannabis.

man's hand holding cannabis joint

If you’re a cannabis consumer, you might wonder why some people don’t like cannabis or why they choose not to consume it. Similarly, if cannabis isn’t your cup of tea, you might ask what cannabis consumers like about it. It’s good practice to think about these questions. It can help you better understand other people’s choices and to feel confident in your own choices around consuming or not consuming cannabis.

Top reasons someone chooses to consume cannabis

In 2022, Health Canada reported in a survey that as many as half the adults in Canada made the choice to consume cannabis at least once over the past year. Among the potential reasons a person might choose cannabis, these are the most cited:

  • Pleasure

​​​​​​​THC is one of the most well-known cannabinoids in cannabis plants and products. While the effects of THC are felt mostly by acting at CB1 receptors, THC also stimulates neurons in the brain’s reward centres, releasing dopamine. For its part, dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in memory, learning, movement and mood and is also known as a “feel-good” or “happy” hormone. A dopamine surge is the force behind the euphoria that many — but not all — people experience with cannabis consumption.

  • Socializing

Some may define themselves as social cannabis consumers. Indeed, one small 2022 observational study associated cannabis consumers with higher levels of prosocial behaviours, measuring increased levels of empathy, agreeableness, openness and fairness compared to non-consumers.

  • Spiritual or religious purposes

For ​​centuries, people across nations and faiths have used cannabis as a spiritual tool, crediting the plant with ​​expanding their awareness and opening them to new perspectives. Some​​ scholars and cannabis consumers note how cannabis may induce a state of wonder or awe,​ ​pointing to THC’s modulating effects on the amygdala — a central part of the brain’s emotional processing — as a possible explanation for the feeling.

  • Relaxation

​Large, real-time observational studies show that some consumers feel relaxed after consuming cannabis. While not a universal experience, ​​cannabis’s anxiolytic or anti-anxiety effects are well documented: studies consistently ​​show reduced anxiety levels with most CBD doses and with ​​​​lower doses of THC. Dosage is vital for anyone exploring cannabis’s stress-relieving properties, as ​​higher amounts of THC are associated with increased anxiety and should be approached with caution.

  • Medical and therapeutic reasons

Decades of prohibition have ​limited the availability of medical research, but anecdotal evidence and emerging research suggest several medical and therapeutic reasons people might choose cannabis as medicine. The ​​best evidence supports cannabis as a potential treatment for certain types of pain, nausea and vomiting and for stimulating appetite.​​

Researchers are currently exploring the plant’s potential to treat a variety of inflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders, and there is strong evidence that cannabis can help manage multiple sclerosis-related spasticity and that CBD can help prevent epileptic seizures. Be sure to speak to a medical professional about consuming cannabis and possible interactions with any other drugs you may be taking.

Top reasons someone may choose to not consume cannabis

Cannabis isn’t for everyone, and there are plenty of personal, social and medical reasons a person might choose not to partake. Here are some commonly cited reasons for abstaining:

  • Lack of interest

Simply put, some folks just aren’t that into it. People make their own decisions around their health and use of substances, and they may choose to opt out of consuming cannabis. And some people just don’t enjoy the experiences that others consider pleasurable.

  • Potential health and mental health risks

​​​People with a family history of schizophrenia or psychosis have good reason to avoid cannabis, which may ​trigger psychotic episodes or ​​exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses, particularly at higher doses of THC and in people already at risk. Anyone who wants to maintain healthy lungs also has a​ solid reason to say no to smoking, which, from ​a health perspective, is the riskier way to consume cannabis.

Learn more about the potential long- and short-term health effects of cannabis.

  • Interactions with other drugs and medications

Cannabis and cannabis products can interact with other drugs and medications, and some people may avoid them for this reason. Drinking​ alcohol, for example, while simultaneously consuming cannabis is linked to negative consequences or unpredictable effects — both in the moment (higher risk of intoxication) and over time (increased risk of addiction or problematic use).

Cannabis products may also interact with blood thinners such as ​​warfarin, benzodiazepines such as clobazam and ​​certain sedatives, hypnotics and tranquillizers, among other drugs. Talk to your doctor to learn if cannabis could interact with any drugs you’re taking.

Learn more about how cannabis may interact with other substances.

  • Stigma

Nuanced messaging about the relative risks and benefits of cannabis wasn’t part of the social curriculum in the 20th century. The ​war on drugs era, from the 1970s to ​​the early 2010s, generated strong anti-cannabis messaging, criminalizing and stigmatizing cannabis and the people who consumed it. The war on drugs was particularly harmful to racialized people such as​​ Black and Indigenous Canadians, who were (and still are) far more likely to be incarcerated for using illegal substances.​​ Ideas from that era are still part of the social conversation around cannabis and may influence some people’s choice to abstain.

What to consider before consuming cannabis

For better or worse, consuming cannabis is associated with both short- and long-term effects, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to decide if it’s a responsible or healthy decision for you. 

Questions to ask yourself before consuming cannabis:
  • What is my intention for consuming?
  • How do I feel in my body and in my mind?
  • What activities or responsibilities are on my plate today?
  • Am I taking any other drugs or medicines that might interact with cannabis?
  • Do I understand how cannabis can affect my physical and mental health?
  • Do I have all the resources I need to make an informed decision?

Harm-reduction practices to keep in mind

Although it’s not always clear in the studies whether someone experiencing ​​depression or anxiety is more likely to consume cannabis, or whether cannabis consumers are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, we do know that higher doses of THC are associated with an increase in negative effects such as paranoia, anxiety and rapid heart rate. Choosing​​ lower-dosed products can reduce the risks of some short- and long-term effects. If you decide to partake, it’s recommended to ​​start low and go slow.

Learn more about harm-reduction strategies for a mindful approach to cannabis.

This content has been assessed for accuracy by unpaid scientific reviewers and subject matter experts.
Learn more about our reviewers and resources.

Canadian Cannabis Survey 2022: Summary
Marijuana Motives: Young Adults’ Reasons for Using Marijuana
Motives Matter: Cannabis use motives moderate the associations between stress and negative affect
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Cannabis and your health
Cannabis consumption and prosociality
Spiritual Benefit from Cannabis
Cannabis as entheogen: survey and interview data on the spiritual use of cannabis
Peak-experience and the entheogenic use of cannabis in world religions
Boredom vs. Awe: Opposite Brain States, Incompatible Emotions
Cannabinoid Modulation of Frontolimbic Activation and Connectivity During Volitional Regulation of Negative Affect
Cannabinoid Modulation of Amygdala Reactivity to Social Signals of Threat in Humans
Neural representations of awe: Distinguishing common and distinct neural mechanisms
Cannabis, a cause for anxiety? A critical appraisal of the anxiogenic and anxiolytic properties
Effects of Marijuana on Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders
Cellular Mechanisms Underlying the Anxiolytic Effect of Low Doses of Peripheral Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol in Rats
Information for Health Care Professionals: Cannabis (marihuana, marijuana) and the cannabinoids
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Canada's lower-risk cannabis use guidelines
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The War on Drugs: History, Policy, and Therapeutics
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