This post was originally published on February 27, 2015.
A new study sheds some light on how perceptions of the risk of marijuana use have changed and what sort of people still perceive it as high-risk.
What population group, for example, is most hesitant about dabbling in regular cannabis use? According to the survey by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, it’s non-Caucasian women who are over 50 and low income. Those least likely to find marijuana use risky were 12- to 25-year-olds with an education level of high school diploma or higher who belong to families with total incomes higher than $75,000.
From Hush-Hush to Openly Indulged
The survey was conducted over the course of 10 years, from 2002 to 2012. During that time, the overall percentage of men and women of all ages and backgrounds who believe steady marijuana use to be significantly risky declined from 51 percent to 40 percent. While more women find it risky than men, that perception declined to 47 percent of women from 58 percent, and the number of regular female marijuana users increased.
These findings are not particularly surprising considering how many states have legalized cannabis use in the past decade. Legalization has only served to further reduce any cultural stigma associated with weed use. What used to be a hush-hush activity in the basement of a fraternity house is now as openly indulged as cigarette smoking or cell phone use on a major city sidewalk. In Los Angeles, where weed cards are becoming as common as SAG memberships, it’s hard to walk certain streets without the scent of weed permeating the air. Cancer patients and generalized anxiety disorder sufferers alike are reaping the benefits of more lenient marijuana laws.
It’s important to note that the Columbia study defines “regular” marijuana use as “once or twice a week.” It’s no wonder the number of people who would consider that minimal amount of usage as dangerous has decreased—you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of people in progressive, forward-thinking places who think a bi-weekly weed habit is seriously risky.
Are Women Just Smarter?
So why do more women than men find habitual cannabis use risky? I don’t want to run the risk of spewing blatant gender stereotypes but a lot of the women I know like to follow the rules and stay in control.
I suspect the criminality long associated with smoking pot is a subconscious deterrent for women. Granted, we lose control when we consume alcohol, too, but there’s not the same stigma—anyone can drink legally after turning 21. There’s also a sexiness and glamor associated with post-work happy hour with the girls or the ladies’ monthly wine drinking book club. I used to be way more terrified of what would happen if the cops busted into the house where I was passing a joint than what would happen during repeated episodes of blackout drinking.
What’s my conclusion? Like any substance, I don’t think weed should be perceived as no-risk simply because its side effects aren’t as obvious or outwardly dangerous as those of alcohol. I do tend to side with people who point out that chronic abuse of weed has been shown to decrease productivity, negatively impact memory and reduce energy levels. It certainly did all those things to my pot-praising, deadbeat ex-boyfriend. There’s always a risk of some sort when you alter your body chemistry.
So don’t knock women for being smarter.