United through cannabis, LGBTQ members of society have reported smoking or consuming cannabis at higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts, in a number of recent observations and surveys. For some members of the community, it’s common knowledge. But what, exactly, is it that attracts LGBTQ people to cannabis so much?
Several studies suggest a relatively common pattern: LGBTQ people and sexual minorities—especially bisexual men and women—consume cannabis at higher rates than heterosexual people. Since bisexual people are typically lumped together with gay men and women, who also consume at higher rates, the LGBTQ community as a whole probably is one of the most pot-friendly demographics of all.
“I would say yes, cannabis is commonly consumed at a higher rate in the LGBTQAI+ community,” says standout drag star Laganja Estranja. “I think a lot of people who are gay, bisexual or non-binary [turn to cannabis] because they are ostracized at a very young age, whereas someone who is straight or in a heteronormative relationship isn’t quite as often. There is a higher stress level for people in the community.”
Estranja’s uncompromising and open appreciation for cannabis compelled the drag star, musician and RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 competitor to release a preroll line with LAHepburns, highlight cannabis in a music video and release a line of vegan cannabis-infused snacks with FRUIT SLABS.
“I grew up in Texas,” Estranja explains. “So being gay was definitely very tough for me growing up and it wasn’t until I moved to California and got my medical cannabis license, that I was really able to understand the difference between stress and [living as sexual minority]. That’s probably one of the number one reasons why the community consumes so much. I also like to joke that usually queer people don’t have children, so they also have a lot more expendable money to spend on cannabis. I also think it’s more popular in our community because the education has been brought to our community.”
There’s plenty of data to suggest LGBTQ people in general love cannabis, although we mostly rely on self-reporting. In one study, gay men reported smoking cannabis in the year prior to a survey “approximately four times greater than exclusively heterosexual men,” researchers observed in 2009, adding that “lesbians were nearly six times more likely than heterosexual women to use marijuana.” But this team of researchers found that bisexual women reported the highest rates of consumption.
Analysts at New Frontier Data in 2017 found similar, albeit more modest results. Researchers found that while 49 percent of heterosexual respondents said they had consumed cannabis during their lifetime, 64 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they have partaken. The team also found bisexual men and women to be the group who supported cannabis reform the most.
What About The Kids?
Some studies define LGBTQ teen cannabis use as a risk factor. Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are at increased risk of consuming alcohol, nicotine and cananbis, investigators at Oregon State University found last year. There, researcher and assistant professor at the School of Psychological Science in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, Sarah Dermody, wondered if the higher rates could be explained by adversity due to the restraints of being a sexual minority—as not everyone fits neatly into traditional gender roles. Dermody’s questions could provide an explanation as to where medical cannabis research on LGBTQ youth is headed next.
Dermody’s theories might make a lot of sense, when you consider that bisexual people are much more prone to anxiety, which can be relieved through cannabis. Transgender, gay, and lesbian people are also prone to anxiety, depression and other related disorders. “That’s why we see a huge rate of suicide in my community is because when people are first brought into this world they’re recognizing that they’re different from someone. And it becomes very traumatizing sometimes,” added Estranja.
Another obvious factor—as Estranja pointed out—is children, or lack thereof. Among LGBTQ adults under 50, 48 percent of women and only 20 percent of men are raising a child who is under 18 years old. So that opens up more room for consuming cannabis without having to hide it from young children.
There remains plenty more to learn regarding the prevalence of cannabis consumption among LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, Ian Holloway, associate professor at UCLA Luskin School of Affairs, was awarded $400,000 last year to study cannabis and tobacco use in detail among sexual minorities. The funding will cover a two-phase study involving 1,000 LGBT young people ages 18-29 across California. The research, conducted in partnership with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, will provide critical data that will give a better glimpse of how and why LGBTQ youth are attracted to cannabis in the first place.