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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Chapter III

Social Impact of marihuana use

Dropping Out

Many parents have a genuine fear that marihuana use leads to idleness and "dropping out." During the 1960's, marihuana use, as well as the use of other psychoactive drugs, became equated with unconventional youth life styles. When a number of young people adopted unconventional life styles, many adults tended to view long hair, unkempt appearance and drugs as symbols of counterculture.

They concluded that anyone who allowed his hair to grow or gave little attention to his clothing or appearance was probably a drug user with little or no motivation to achieve and no interest in conventional goals.

A number of researchers and clinicians have observed the use of marihuana or hashish in other societies, particularly among poor, lower class males. Some have observed that many of these individuals are generally unmotivated and ordinarily appear to show little aspiration or motivation to improve their way of life, regardless of whether they are judged by the standards of the more prosperous members of their own society or by middle class standards of contemporary American society.

One of the problems with this type of analysis is that it fails to perceive the social and cultural realities in which the phenomenon takes place. In the Middle East and in Asia where hashish is used, the societies, in all instances, are highly stratified with people in the lower classes having virtually no social or economic mobility. Poverty, deprivation and disease were the conditions into which these people were born and in which they remain, regardless of whether they use cannabis. In this context, a person's resignation to his status in life is not likely to be caused or greatly influenced by the effects of cannabis. Any society will always have a certain number of persons who, for various reasons, are not motivated to strive for personal achievement or participate fully in the life of the community. Therefore, the determination is difficult to make whether cannabis use influences a person to drop out and, if it does, to what extent.

Some individuals possess particular personality as well as psychosocial characteristics which in specified instances could produce amotivation or dropping out. However, little likelihood exists that the introduction of a single element such as marihuana use would significantly change the basic personality and character structure of the individual to any degree. An individual is more likely to drop out when a number of circumstances have joined at a given point in his lifetime, producing pressures with which he has difficulty in coping. These pressures often coincide with situations involving painful or difficult judgments resulting from a need to adjust to the pressures of the social environment.

Many young people, particularly in the college population, are shielded in their earlier years from experiences which might be emotionally stressful or unpleasant. Some young people, so sheltered, are neither equipped to make mature and independent judgments nor prepared to enjoy the new-found freedom of the university or college in a mature and responsible way. Some of these students are often unable to cope with social or academic adversity. After being sheltered for so long, some of these young people may be easily attracted to experiences which promise new excitement and to fall under the influence of a peer group whose values and living patterns may be inimical to a productive, healthy and continuous process of personal growth and maturity. In these instances, marihuana serves as the medium by which these individuals encounter social and psychological experiences with which they are ill-equipped to cope.

Certain numbers of these young people have demonstrated what is described as amotivation long before the smoking of marihuana became fashionable. Adolescence is often a particularly difficult period of searching in many directions at the same time. In addition to seeking a concept of "self" the adolescent is, at the same time, attempting to comprehend the nature of the world around him and to identify his status and role in society.

Different individuals, with different backgrounds, socialization patterns, belief systems and levels of emotional maturity cope with the period of transition from childhood to adulthood in different ways., For a small number, dropping out might be one of these coping mechanisms whether or not they use marihuana. For others, the response to the difficult adjustments of adolescence takes other forms, some of which are more, acceptable, "normal" and easier for adults to understand.

The young person who does not find it possible to cope with the pressures of his adolescent developmental period in ways convenient to the understanding of adult society should not be rejected, stigmatized or labeled. He requires both support and understanding and the opportunity to participate in roles which have meaning for him and in ways in which he feels comfortable. For a certain number of young people, marihuana and the mystique of the experience eases this passage by helping them share their feelings, doubts, inadequacies and aspirations with peers with whom they feel safe and comfortable.


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