Graduate Student Paper Prize Winner: Benjamin Holt

Congratulations to ADTSG’s 2021 Graduate Student Paper Prize Winner, Benjamin Holt!

Benjamin is being award for his paper “Cannabis Vaporizing in Sonoma County: User Perceptions and Behavior,” an insightful paper about cannabis vaporizing.

Benjamin is a recent medical anthropology M.A. graduate from San Francisco State University who specializes in qualitative research on the health effects of drug misinformation. Though his thesis focused on a collection of original ethnographic interviews with cannabis vaporizer consumers in his home county of Sonoma, he also has experience researching other aspects of alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis use in Northern California’s greater Bay Area. Benjamin’s goal is to bridge the divide between public health scientists and the communities of drug consumers they study so that the health information produced together can be accurate and actionable for all.

Why did you choose to study anthropology?

I actually fell into anthropology somewhat by accident. It was my second choice for an undergraduate major when the overload of applications impacted the psychology department at San Francisco State University. Luckily for me, anthropology’s humanistic and reflexive approach was exactly what I’d been looking for the whole time. I appreciated how the anthropology department faculty at SFSU encouraged me to study local health issues through a combination of social and biological sciences in a way that connected macro-social policy influences and the microcosm of people’s everyday experiences.

Why are you interested in alcohol, drugs, and tobacco research?

I chose to study cannabis because it is an especially controversial substance that has gained more scientific attention as states like California legalize some form of its use and distance themselves from the staunch federal prohibition. I also specifically chose vaporizers and solvent-based cannabinoid extracts because they are an extremely recent development in the long history of human cannabis consumption. Given these unique circumstances, it felt like there was an opportunity to study an emerging drug consumption trend from the experienced consumers’ point of view before the scientific community reached a consensus on the health outcomes.  

What are your research plans for studying alcohol, drugs, and tobacco?

Cannabis vaporizers and concentrated products, particularly the most potent versions, are still an understudied topic and future public health research projects can benefit from an anthropological approach. The style and specificity of the interview questions from this thesis worked well and could be applied to consumers in other California counties, or even other states, that have adopted pro or anti-cannabis policies. In the future, I hope to continue to research how medical misinformation affects alcohol, tobacco, and drug consumers’ perceptions and behavior because it can help people understand the barriers to effective policy and public health interventions.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

After a demanding year completing my master’s thesis and graduating amidst the COVID pandemic, I took some time to celebrate this accomplishment with my family and my community. Winning this award gives me the confidence to dream big and explore publishing a version of this thesis. At the moment, I am searching for professional opportunities in academic or non-profit health research on alcohol, tobacco, or preferably cannabis. I’m also interested in private sector opportunities to apply my qualitative research skills towards consumers’ experiences, given the company’s values aligned with my own. Although I am not opposed to pursuing Ph.D. programs, I’d like to gain some more occupational experience and insight before deciding on the specifics. Ultimately, I look forward to tackling whatever the future throws my way with a unique perspective and skill set from my medical anthropology degree.