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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Perceptions of cannabis as a stigmatized medicine: a qualitative descriptive study

Joan L Bottorff16*, Laura JL Bissell2, Lynda G Balneaves3, John L Oliffe3, N Rielle Capler4 and Jane Buxton5

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing, Faculty of Health and Social Development, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, Kelowna, BC, V1V 1V7, Canada

2 Faculty of Health and Social Development, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, Kelowna, BC, V1V 1V7, Canada

3 School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, T201 2211 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada

4 Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program, University of British Columbia, T201 2211 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada

5 School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, 171 - 2206 East Mall, Vancouver, V6T 1Z3, Canada

6 Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, 3333 University Way, Kelowna, BC, V1 1V7, Canada

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Harm Reduction Journal 2013, 10:2  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-10-2

Published: 16 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Despite its increasing prevalence and acceptance among the general public, cannabis use continues to be viewed as an aberrant activity in many contexts. However, little is known about how stigma associated with cannabis use affects individuals who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes (CTP) and what strategies these individuals employ to manage associated stigma. The aim of this Canadian study was to describe users’ perceptions of and responses to the stigma attached to using CTP.

Methods

Twenty-three individuals who were using CTP for a range of health problems took part in semi-structured interviews. Transcribed data were analyzed using an inductive approach and comparative strategies to explore participants’ perceptions of CTP and identify themes.

Results

Participant experiences of stigma were related to negative views of cannabis as a recreational drug, the current criminal sanctions associated with cannabis use, and using cannabis in the context of stigmatizing vulnerability (related to existing illness and disability). Strategies for managing the resulting stigma of using CTP included: keeping CTP ‘undercover’; educating those who did not approve of or understand CTP use; and using cannabis responsibly.

Conclusions

Understanding how individuals perceive and respond to stigma can inform the development of strategies aimed at reducing stigma associated with the use of CTP and thereby address barriers faced by those using this medicine.

Keywords:
Cannabis; Medical marijuana; Stigma; Cannabis; Legal consequences; Social consequences