Hemp has been popular in some parts of the world for centuries or even millennia. Certain strains of this plant, those with higher concentrations of psychoactive substances, are typically called marijuana (or 'drug cannabis'). They have also been used recreationally or ritually for just as long, and demand spiked during the pandemic.
The surge has been fueled by three things: the stressful lockdowns, the increasing mental strain brought by the pandemic, and the large trend of relaxation of marijuana laws. But is this increase in consumption a good or a bad thing? Let's see.
Historically, both hemp and drug cannabis have been controlled substances in one way or another. Hemp farming and selling in the US re-became legal only in 2018, with a bill signed by the Trump administration. Drug cannabis is still a controlled substance at the federal level in the US and in countries across the world, but we're also seeing a trend towards legalization (most recently in Virginia).
Such moves pave the way towards more research into the merits of medical marijuana.
The lockdowns and other restrictions imposed against the pandemic have led to a spike in the use of legal and medical cannabis as a result, some are going through online platforms such as Veriheal to see medical marijuana doctors. Users said they employed cannabis as a "coping mechanism" to being stuck inside all day. Medical marijuana saw the most use for managing pain, feelings of anxiety, and mental health issues.
"Before lockdown we'd have a couple of joints around the weekend," one listener of the BBC Scotland's Unlocked podcast explained about him and his wife back in May. "After lockdown it was becoming every day. We used to wait until about 8 o'clock at night. But then it got to one o'clock, three o'clock in the afternoon and we thought, 'should we be smoking it this early?'."
"But then we thought 'there's nothing else to do, we're stuck in the house, so why not?'."
We've been living in peculiar conditions ever since the pandemic took root -- a mixture of both stress and boredom. We have too much time on our hands and not enough tools to actually deal with the overall problem. Research has shown that many people are turning to drugs such as marijuana or even misusing prescription drugs to give themselves something to do, manage physical pain, and to keep their emotional and mental balance. Alcohol consumption, however, is in decline.
Cannabis sales in the US increased by 64% overall in March and by up to 100% in certain areas by June. According to Healtheuropa, around 6% of Europeans in 28 countries purchased cannabis in the same month. The black market still supplies a large chunk of users: virtually all in places that still consider it illegal, and up to 80% in some states such as California, where recreational use is not criminalized.
Demand for medical marijuana peaked so fast that some markets were unable to keep up, with buyers in Germany reporting that their deliveries were 'not arriving', according to Deutche Welle. So it must be a pretty impressive rise in demand if the shops themselves can't manage to capitalize on all of it. Should we be worried, then?
Ongoing changes in the legality of marijuana both as a medicinal and recreational drug are making it more available, and a better understanding of its therapeutic uses means it's being prescribed for use more often. Past research has shown a drop in alcohol use for both younger and older generations, but a rise in the use of drugs such as marijuana, even before the pandemic.
At the same time, marijuana is typically used alone (as reported by 52% of consumers). This is understandably a bonus now over alcohol, another popular drug, which is typically drunk socially. The stress that this pandemic places on all of us is hard to overstate, and it's having a big impact on our mental health, and some users have turned to medical marijuana for the support that our social circles or hobbies used to provide.
All in all, we're probably looking at the combined effects of a (pun intended) budding industry with a world-wide event where its product is sought after as a crutch or a way to pass the time. We're creatures of habit and right now, we can't really go about our usual lives. The use of cannabis as a crutch will probably keep rising until restrictions clear and we're able to somewhat get back to our daily routines, and then stabilize.