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Young Cannabis Consumers Still Prefer Bongs, Study Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Mar 20, 2023   
Person lights bong.

Image credit: Jeff W via Unsplash

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The legalization of cannabis in Canada has led to the availability of an array of unique cannabis products for adults of legal age to purchase. But for all these novelties, do young adults actually prefer edibles and concentrates to more familiar cannabis products like bongs and joints? Apparently not, according to the results of a new study from researchers at St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia.

Published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, the study surveyed nearly 300 young Canadian university students and found that bongs and joints were still the preferred methods of cannabis use for the vast majority of students.

When examining the motivations behind these forms of cannabis use, the researchers found that the students were largely influenced by the convenience and cost-effectiveness of bongs and joints, as well as their subjective ratings of how “harsh/smooth” each method felt to their throat and lungs.

To date, the motivations underlying why a person might prefer one cannabis use method over another are still poorly understood, the researchers say. Further research in this vein could help to inform the approaches taken by harm reduction programs, they say, as well as regional and international cannabis policymakers.

Despite novel edibles, young people still prefer combustibles

This latest study used an online survey to gather responses from current Canadian university students aged between 18-25 years who use cannabis at least twice per week. In total, 297 students responded to the survey, of which 62% were women and 82% were white.

In the survey, students were presented with a multiple-choice question asking which cannabis products they used most often. Depending on their selection, an additional follow-up question on preferred methods of use was presented. All respondents were then asked to fill out a short open-answer textbox describing why this method was their preferred mode of cannabis use.

The researchers found that a significant majority of the respondents (just over 65%) said bongs as their preferred method of use. The next-most popular product was joints (just under 24%). Only a handful of participants selected methods such as edibles, blunts, vape pens, hand pipes, or vaporizers.

This overwhelming preference for bongs and joints over vape products might come as a surprise given the widely-reported popularity of vaping among young people.

In one recent survey from the American Heart Association, which focused on teens and young people aged 13-24, only around 30% of respondents claimed to have never vaped either nicotine or cannabis. Around 43% of the survey respondents reported having used both THC and nicotine vapes within the past 30 days, with 8% of respondents reporting having used THC-containing vapes exclusively.

Convenience is king

Given the high prevalence of bong and joint-users in this latest survey, the researchers were able to analyze the themes and motivations driving the use of these products.

Among those who preferred to use bongs, the most common reason given was convenience. A number of respondents said that they already owned a bong or that one was easy to obtain. Many felt that “packing” a bong was far more convenient than rolling smoking papers to make a joint.

Those who preferred bongs over joints also tended to characterize bongs as the more cost-effective option, as they felt that it is easier to control the amount of cannabis being used and that less of it was being wasted by burning and falling away, like at the end of a joint. The next-most common reasons for preferring bongs were more subjective, namely that bongs gave a “better” or more intense high, were less harsh/smooth on the user’s throat and lungs (according to personal preference), or acted faster than other methods of administration.

Convenience was also the most common reason given among those who preferred joints. Specifically, some of the joint users highlighted the portability of joints as a particular advantage of the method, as it allowed them to more easily use cannabis outside and “on the go”. Similarly to bong users, many joint users felt that joints gave a more preferable subjective high. A number of respondents also highlighted preferring joints over using a bong because they preferred taking smaller hits of the drug.

The importance of understanding cannabis use

The researchers do note some limitations of this research. Primarily, while there were plentiful responses relating to bongs and joints which allowed their reasonings to be analyzed, this was not the case for other modes such as edibles or blunts. Similar work with larger sample sizes could be useful in helping to determine the motivations for using these products over others.

The sample size here was also largely White and consisted only of young people attending university. As such, the researchers recognize that the findings here may not be generalizable to other ethnic groups, older adults, or adults with different educational backgrounds.

Despite these limitations, this study is one of the first to examine the motivations behind young people’s cannabis use preferences in Canada. As the researchers write in their paper, harm reduction and drug use prevention programs “should take the reasons young people select combustible methods of cannabis into account.”

By studying and considering what makes these products particularly appealing, the researchers say, lawmakers may be more equipped to design new policies which can steer users towards “potentially less harmful” methods of cannabis use.


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