Perceptions of Marijuana and Psychedelics

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In 2020, at an all-time high, 68% of Americans expressed support for the legalization of marijuana. In the 25 years since California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, and nearly a decade since Colorado and Washington state voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the American opinion on the use and legalization of the drug continues to shift. In April 2021, New York became the latest state to draft legislation for the recreational use of marijuana into law.

With public support continuing to evolve and more states legalizing cannabis for medicinal and/or recreational use every year, we surveyed over 1,000 people about their perceptions and experience with marijuana and psychedelic substances. Let’s take a closer look at how many Americans report using different drugs (including marijuana, LSD, ketamine, and PCP); which drugs they support either recreational and/or therapeutic use of; how important medical research is to their opinions; and how many believe marijuana is a better treatment option than other medications. 

Drug Use Among Americans 

Among the more than 1,000 people surveyed, 78% reported using marijuana in one or more of the forms they were asked about. The most popular forms of marijuana included smokables (62%), edibles (55%), vaping (44%), and tinctures (33%). Edible marijuana products, often consumed for their therapeutic effects, have the added benefit of eliminating any lung health risks that may be linked to smoking or vaping. While vaping was most popular among respondents in their 20s, general marijuana use (including smokable, edibles, and tinctures) was highest among Americans in their 30s and 40s. 

drug use chart

Other commonly used drugs included psilocybin-containing mushrooms (27%), LSD (23%), salvia divinorum (13%), and ketamine (12%). Higher than the overall average, 28% of people in their 40s indicated using LSD, one of the most potent hallucinogens available. Studies suggest, in smaller doses, LSD has the potential to provide therapeutic treatment for mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety.

Positive Opinions of Marijuana and Other Psychedelics 

Overwhelmingly, Americans indicated medical research (69%) was the most likely resource to change their beliefs or opinions about the use of drugs in either recreational or therapeutic settings. In addition to formal studies, clinical trials (61%), legalization (27%), and the personal experiences of friends and family (19%) were the most likely factors to inspire a positive position toward drug use. 

approval of drug chart

Using their own experiences or education, 47% of people reported believing it was acceptable to use psychedelics for therapeutic purposes (including peyote, psilocybin, and ayahuasca). Just 17% of millennials said it was never OK to use psychedelics, followed by 21% of Generation X respondents and 29% of baby boomers.

Marijuana had the highest percentage of popular opinions with 77% of Americans indicating both tinctures, topicals, and edibles were acceptable in any use, followed by vapes (62%), and smokable marijuana (60%). Another 21% of people indicated they believed topical marijuana should only be used for therapeutic purposes, and only 4% of respondents signaled that topical marijuana use was never acceptable under any circumstances. Vaping marijuana had the highest percentage of respondents voting that no use was acceptable (9%).

Support for Psychedelics?

In 2020, with nearly a full year in lockdown and quarantine as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Americans reporting feelings of depression and anxiety has skyrocketed. But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health in the U.S. had been worsening, with nearly 1 in 5 adults experiencing some form of mental illness. For that reason, it isn’t surprising that over half of respondents were open to the idea that marijuana could be used to ease stress and anxiety. 

psychedelics chart

Sixty-eight percent of respondents believed that marijuana can help ease anxiety, compared to 35% who said the same for psychedelics. Sixty-six percent indicated that marijuana is helpful in lowering stress, compared to nearly 1 in 3 feeling the same about psychedelics. Overwhelmingly, marijuana was also preferred for helping with chronic pain, sleep, and short-term pain. Studies continue to support the use of marijuana to help treat PTSD. Our respondents felt the same way – 45% indicated that marijuana is beneficial for PTSD, compared to 29% echoing the sentiment for psychedelics. 

In terms of perceived downsides, 64% believed psychedelics can cause mental impairment, compared to 51% for marijuana. Other top concerns related to marijuana use included long-term health impacts (38%) and risk of death from tainted drugs (30%). 

Risk and Reward

On a scale of benefit versus risk, marijuana in tincture and topical form were voted as having the highest level of value with the lowest level of risk, while edible marijuana edged them out as the most beneficial overall. Topicals particularly have been identified as beneficial for localized symptoms (including skin conditions and arthritis), although they may provide lower doses of penetration. Research indicates topical marijuana may also offer anti-inflammatory properties for the use of pain treatment. Smokable marijuana and vaping was voted as slightly less beneficial and also as having a slightly higher risk. 

risk and reward drug chart

Compared to marijuana, most psychedelics were considered to have lower overall benefits to users and significantly higher risk. PCP had the highest risk-over-benefit ratio, followed by ketamine, LSD, and DXM. PCP is a Schedule 2 hallucinogenic, and withdrawal symptoms can include depression and emotional detachment that sometimes require rehabilitation to overcome. In contrast, ayahuasca and psilocybin were seen by respondents as having both high risk and high reward potential. 

Sentiment Toward Drug Use for Medical Purposes

Forty-nine percent of respondents believed that all forms of marijuana provide better treatment options for therapeutic use than currently available medications, including 54% of people in their 40s and 51% of people 50 and over. Forty percent of people said that only certain psychedelics were better than currently available medications, and 31% said the same about marijuana. Three in 4 Americans said marijuana should be legal for any use, and more than a third said the same about psychedelics. Another 20% of people said marijuana should only be legal for medicinal use, and 37% of respondents said the same about psychedelics.

sentiment chart for drug use

Compared to 81% of independent voters and 76% of Democrats, just 65% of Republicans indicated marijuana should be legal for any form of use, though 29% said it should be legal for therapeutic or medicinal use. Forty percent of Democrats reported psychedelics should be legalized for any use, followed by 39% of independents and 32% of Republicans. 

When asked how they would approach drug use for their own therapeutic needs, 44% of all respondents said they had already tried marijuana, and 42% were willing to try marijuana for medicinal use. While just 30% of people over the age of 50 said they had already used marijuana for medical purposes, 48% indicated they were willing to try it. Research indicates older Americans are becoming more open to using marijuana for many of the same therapeutic uses younger Americans do – including sleeping, pain, neurotherapy, and anxiety. 

Making the Best Decisions About Your Health

Whether it’s for therapeutic or recreational use, most Americans consider marijuana (particularly topical, edible, and tincture forms) the best solutions with the lowest overall risk. The majority of Americans, even those who identify on the conservative end of the political spectrum, indicated marijuana should be legal for any kind of use, with only a small percentage indicating marijuana should be illegal, even for medicinal or therapeutic purposes. 

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Methodology and Limitations

For this study, we surveyed 1,005 respondents. Among those respondents, 437 were women, 550 were men, 11 identified as nonbinary, and seven did not report their gender. Our respondents ranged in age from 18 to 75 with an average age of approximately 37.

In some cases, questions and answers have been rephrased for clarity or brevity. In order to help gather accurate responses, all respondents were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question.

Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory. 

Fair Use Statement

The American opinion on marijuana use is shifting, and we’re happy to share the use of these findings and graphics for any noncommercial use. Simply include a link back to this page in your story so your readers have full access to our analyses and methodology.