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Consumers’ Perspectives on the Function of Marijuana in Their Lives

Principal Investigator:
Robin Harwick, PhD
Research Scientist
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute

Date: July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017
Sponsor: Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute
Categories: Marijuana

Other Investigators: N. Tatiana Masters, PhD, Research Scientist, ADAI; Beatriz Carlini, PhD, Research Scientist, ADAI

Description: The dichotomy between medicinal and recreational marijuana present in Washington state law reflects the way US science and policy have approached marijuana use for many decades. However, recent research suggests that boundaries between these two types of marijuana use - firmly delineated in public policies - seem quite blurred to consumers. In both clinical and community samples, medical and non-medical marijuana consumption often overlap, and consumers may transition over time from medical to non-medical use or vice-versa. Lines between these types of cannabis consumption may soon blur further as Washington law requires medical marijuana dispensaries to close and the medical system is merged into non-medical retail. This proposal aims to understand cannabis consumption from the perspective of adult regular users, without preconceived ideas that their use is defined by current categories of medicinal or recreational (non-medical). Using grounded theory and qualitative methods of data collection, its purpose is to understand marijuana consumption styles from the ground up. Participants who define themselves as regular marijuana consumers will be recruited for focus groups. Groups (6 total of 6-10 people each) will be recorded and transcribed for analysis. In them, participants will share their perspectives on marijuana's functional utility to them along with their different motivations, settings, and contexts for consumption. Qualitative data analyses informed by grounded theory will be used to produce a taxonomy of how these adults perceive marijuana's function(s) in their lives. Results will delineate cannabis consumption styles and functions described in consumers' accounts, relationships among these styles within participants, and the proportion of each consumption style across participants. Knowledge acquired can be used in shaping research, policies, and treatment related to marijuana consumption. Findings will also inform future grant applications on the development of marijuana consumption survey questions and measures that are valid, reliable, and standardized.

The overall objective of this study is to generate a taxonomy of how adults who regularly consume marijuana perceive its function in their lives. In particular, this study will use grounded theory to understand the phenomenon of marijuana consumption from the consumer's perspective, potentially broadening the framework beyond the binary categories of medical vs non-medical cannabis.