Cannabis Use and Gender

Written by Lisa Rennie

Gender plays a role in patterns of cannabis use, but the roles among genders are evolving, requiring the need to re-evaluate how gender norms affect these patterns to better respond to overall wellness.

When it comes to cannabis use, males are reported to consume at higher rates compared to females. [1,2] That said, the gap between the genders is narrowing.

Because cannabis was legalized federally in Canada and is increasingly being legalized on a state-by-state level in the US, closer analysis of this interesting trend is warranted. A 2020 scoping review sought to understand how “gender norms, roles and relations” affect trends in cannabis use, if it all. [3] A scoping review is just a summary of a large and diverse collection of scientific literature pertaining to a broad topic. Just how broad and complex that topic is likely correlates to many variables that, in turn, affect the validity of very granular findings.

The review considered 21 global cannabis studies out of a possible 784. Of these, 445 regarded prevalence and patterns of use, and of those, 15 provided studies on cannabis and gender roles, norms, and relations. The authors found six more studies in the references of the papers they selected.

The scoping review found that several studies correlated/associated male cannabis use as a measure of the gender norm masculinity. One study, for example, reported that men were more involved with dealers and cultivators [4], and another that males are more likely to buy and maintain a supply of cannabis [5]. Studies considering female norms and cannabis use are lacking, therefore, no comparison could be made. In a Canadian study, adolescents reported social dynamics based on gender. [6] Girls who smoked cannabis regularly were often labeled as being too “silly” and “giggly,” while males were “cool” and “relaxed.” Some boys labeled cannabis as a “happy drug” that enabled them to talk about their emotions. Girls were perceived (by boys and girls) as being able to access cannabis more easily.

Further, males use more varied modes of consumption of cannabis and are more likely to use products of higher potency perhaps out of “toughness” (e.g., who will be the last one standing). [7]

Discussions regarding cannabis use and intimate relationships predominantly regarded one member of the relationship quitting their use for their partner. Often, the person quitting was male, and these men reported their decision as a “natural progression from youth to adulthood.” [3,8] For example, these Norwegian men found “fatherhood as incompatible with cannabis use.”

Based on these trends, it may appear as though males need more focus when it comes to informing of the health implications of cannabis use. However, cannabis use among males and females is converging. Further, gender-diverse individuals who use cannabis are influencing the patterns, which warrants practice responses that target all genders and gender identities.

While we are just in the early stages of research on gender and cannabis use, the literature thus far suggests that gender roles and norms play a key role in cannabis use patterns. The evaluations used in the studies, however, can mistakenly treat gender norms as fixed and not flexible. Some researchers have pointed to ever-changing norms with age, relationships, roles, responsibilities, employment, social settings, etc. [9]

What’s more, it would be interesting to see how these results and others discussed in the paper [3] might evolve if study participants all resided in demographics where cannabis was more accepted for its medicinal properties, and most importantly, legal. After all, reading discussions of cannabis and “substance use” together harkens to a time when cannabis was more stigmatized as something bad. Now that cannabis legalization is occurring across Earth, it would be ideal to revisit these topics to more accurately assess what roles gender plays, if any at all.

Image source: Wild0ne on Pixabay


  1. Carliner H, Mauro PM, Brown QL, et al. The widening gender gap in marijuana use prevalence in the U.S. during a period of economic change, 2002-2014. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017;170:51-58. [Journal Impact Factor: 3.951; Times Cited: 65 (Semantic Scholar)]
  2. Johnson RM, Fairman B, Gilreath T, et al. Past 15-year trends in adolescent marijuana use: Differences by race/ethnicity and sex. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015;155:8-15. [Journal Impact Factor: 3.951; Times Cited: 104 (Semantic Scholar)]
  3. Hemsing N, Greaves L. Gender norms, roles and relations and cannabis-use patterns: A scoping review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(3):947. [Journal Impact Factor: 2.849; Times Cited: 8 (Semantic Scholar)]
  4. Dahl S, Sandberg S. Female cannabis users and new masculinities: The gendering of cannabis use. Sociology. 2015;49:696–711. [Journal Impact Factor: 3.068; Times Cited: 18 (Semantic Scholar)]
  5. Hathaway A, Mostaghim A, Erickson P, Kolar K, Osborne, G. It’s really no big deal: The role of social supply networks in normalizing use of cannabis by students at Canadian universities. Deviant Behav. 2018;39:1672–1680. [Journal Impact Factor: 1.348; Times Cited: 14 (Semantic Scholar)]
  6. Haines RJ, Johnson JL, Carter CI, Arora K. “I couldn’t say, I’m not a girl”–adolescents talk about gender and marijuana use. Soc Sci Med. 2009;68(11):2029-2036. [Journal Impact Factor: 3.616; Times Cited: 32 (Semantic Scholar)]
  7. Darcy C. A psychoactive paradox of masculinities: Cohesive and competitive relations between drug taking Irish men. Gender, Place & Culture. 2020;27:175-195. [Journal Impact Factor: 1.554; Times Cited: 1 (Semantic Scholar)]
  8. Dahl SL. Remaining a user while cutting down: The relationship between cannabis use and identity. Drugs Educ. Prev. Policy. 2015;22:175–184. [Journal Impact Factor: 1.170; Times Cited: 15 (Semantic Scholar)]
  9. Wilkinson AL, Fleming PJ, Halpern CT, Herring AH, Harris KM. Adherence to gender-typical behavior and high frequency substance use from adolescence into young adulthood. Psychol. Men Masc. 2018;19:145–155. [Journal Impact Factor: 2.793; Times Cited: 14 (Semantic Scholar)]

About the author

Lisa Rennie

Lisa Simoneli Rennie has been working as a freelance writer for more than a decade, creating unique content dedicated to informing consumers. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with others, and in her spare time, Lisa enjoys trying funky new recipes, spending time with her dog, and of course, reveling in the joy of family.

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