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Knowledge, Attitudes, and Perceptions on Cannabis and its Use: A Qualitative Study among Young Adult Cannabis Consumers and Non-Consumers in South Florida

Amrit Baral
University of Miami

Co-Authors: Denise C. Vidot1, Vanessa Morales1, Yetunde Tagrum1, Meghal Desai1, Nawaf Alhazmi1, Bria-Necole Diggs1, Walter Ramsey1
1University of Miami

Quantitative studies have reported an increase in cannabis use; however, scientific and public understanding of cannabis has been outpaced by the trend in the legalization and availability of cannabis products. Qualitative studies are essential to gain perspective insight into highly stigmatized topics, such as cannabis. This study aims to examine the knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of cannabis and its use among young adult cannabis consumers and non-consumers in South Florida.

This qualitative study analyzed interviews from 45 participants in the Herbal Heart Study (HHS), a cohort study examining the impact of cannabis use on subclinical cardiovascular risk among healthy young adults (18-35 years old) in South Florida. The current study included cannabis consumers (40%) and non-consumers (60%), with a majority being female (66.7%). A qualitative thematic analysis of the interviews was performed using a deductive approach driven by the Health Belief Model (HBM) theory.

The interviews revealed five emergent themes: perceived health benefits of cannabis use, the perceived health risk of cannabis use, motivation for cannabis use, knowledge of cannabis, and perceived barriers to cannabis use. Participants reported the medical benefits of cannabis, including pain management, and treating side effects of cancer, while also acknowledging perceived health risks associated with mental health, cardiovascular, and respiratory health. For majority of consumers, the motivation for use was health reasons or relaxation of mind. Cannabis users endorsed its use for medical and recreational purposes equally. A few participants expressed their knowledge on cannabis compounds, strains, and methods of consumption. While some participants had knowledge deficits, the majority expressed their interest in learning more about the effects of cannabis on human health based on scientific research.

This study highlights mixed attitudes towards cannabis use among young adults, with perceived risks and benefits of cannabis stemming from personal experience and other sources. The findings underscore 1) the need for evidence-based cannabis literacy for young adults to keep pace with policy changes and liberalization around cannabis use; and 2) implications for public health messaging and policymaking. Results suggest the need for additional research to elucidate the impact of cannabis on human health.

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