Exploring University Student’s Experiences when Using Cannabis: A Qualitative Inquiry


  • Corey C. Hanson
  • Janet L. Kuhnke


Cannabis use is increasing especially in younger individuals in Nova Scotia. In the university setting, there is a growing body of literature seeking to understand why individuals choose to use cannabis for management of symptoms. As one third of Nova Scotians 15 years and older report consuming cannabis it was important to understand the perspectives and experiences of university students. Young adults utilize cannabis for wide ranging symptoms, anxiety, depression, social acceptance, and pain and many are not managed by a health care professional. Therefore, we sought to understand why students choose to use cannabis. We utilized a qualitative descriptive approach to seek rich, thick descriptions. We interviewed six young adults using a semi-structured approach. University ethics were sought and granted. A letter of information and informed consent were utilized. Interviews were conducted following pandemic guidelines and utilizing an e-platform. Data was transcribed verbatim. The researchers read, re-read, and thematically analyzed the transcripts. Themes were identified following a thematic analysis process. Findings were shared with participants and presented at a university research event. The following themes emerged from the data: (1) perceived benefits of cannabis on ones’ symptoms; (2) perceived risks of cannabis use; and (3) reasons for use instead of medically prescribed medications. This small qualitative study shares the experiences of university students using cannabis to manage symptoms. Participants self-medicate their symptoms, e.g., anxiety, depression, and social and family stressors. They engage in a trial-and-error process to get the right amount of cannabis to manage symptoms. They also use cannabis to numb stressors and to feel normalized in social situations. Participants also described risks associated with cannabis use, overuse and unanticipated side-effects including risk of addiction. Finally, they choose cannabis as there continues to be stigma associated with discussing mental health issues with their physician, and it is easy to access cannabis without a prescription. More research is needed to fully understand the role of cannabis as it shifts its use and access with legalization.