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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana - A Signal of Misunderstanding.

Chapter II

marihuana use and its effects

Social Group Factors

One of the most influential factors in determining behavior in contemporary America among adolescents and young adults is peer group influence. Knowing other people who use marihuana predisposes the individual to use marihuana, and having marihuana-using friends provides the social opportunity for the curious. Ile individual who is already part of a, social group which uses marihuana indicates by this choice that his attitudes and values are already to some degree compatible with illicit drug use.

Social peer groups are especially influential upon individuals who have not yet become "successful" adults, such as adolescents, college students and young adults, who spend a great deal of time and effort competing for status in situations where status opportunities are minimal. The social peer group provides an opportunity for achieving status among equals by demonstrating competence and autonomy. Outstanding performance in athletics, organizations or academics demonstrates competence but not autonomy because these activities are adult-oriented and controlled. Additionally, only a relative few are able to excel.

Opportunity to prove oneself is more readily available in the peer group. Often, adolescents participate in forms of delinquent behavior, termed symbolic infractions, in order to demonstrate autonomy and competence to their peers. These include joy-riding, vandalism, sexual promiscuity, underage drinking, violation of rules of decorum and dress, and purposeless confrontation with authority.

Marihuana use has recently been added to the list of infractions and offers several advantages for adolescents and young adults. Most important, it provides a shared group experience which offers the, shy, lonely, socially awkward neophyte a means of entrance to the group, complete with its own ceremonial initiation. Repetition of the behavior serves to increase closeness and commitment to the group. Usually the experience is pleasurable and the individual is able to control his level of intoxication. This delinquency is viewed as relatively harmless to oneself and others, although its symbolic impact on parents and authority is often greater than that of other common infractions.

Therefore, a, subtle process of acquiring attitudes favorable to drug use, of having friends and acquaintances who define the marihuana experience in acceptable and pleasurable terms, and of having a social belief system which prepares one to accept the conversion process to begin with, are all powerful complementary factors which direct a young person toward marihuana use. At this point, the use of marihuana provides further opportunities for acquiring new marihuana using friends and entering the social milieu of marihuana, users.

The Dynamics of Persistent Use

The cultural and social factors sketched above, in combination with the individual's somatic and psychic characteristics, determine the pattern of his drug behavior once he has chosen to experiment with it. The majority of individuals who reach this point progress no further and often discontinue marihuana use. The most common explanation for discontinuing use is loss of interest; the effect lost its novelty and became boring. Other less common reasons are fear of legal hazards, social pressure, and concerns over physical and mental drug effects. Among the infrequently noted reasons are: interference with other activities; replacement by alcohol; unavailability; cost; unpleasant experiences; fear of moral transgression; or progression to other forms of non-drug interests such as yoga, transcendental meditation, agrarian communes, esoteric religion and restrictive diets.

For those who continue use, psychosocial factors are important determinants of the use patterns. Many marihuana users are strongly committed to traditional society in which they desire to rise socially. They have chosen to participate fully in the traditional adult-oriented activities and the formal achievement-reward system. Their peer groups consist primarily of similarly oriented individuals. The infrequent use of marihuana by these persons is a social activity for fun and satisfies curiosity.

Those individuals who continue to use marihuana more frequently appear to be different types of people and oriented toward a different part of the social system. Most of them maintain stable career orientations and continue to function within the broader society. But they feel more burdened by the traditional system of social controls and more removed from contemporary society's institutions. These individuals tend to turn away from more traditional adult-oriented reward systems and intensify their peer-group orientation. Their interests and activities emphasize an informal "in-crowd," out-of-school or work orientation. The meaning of marihuana use by this peer group emphasizes the ideological character of usage. In contrast to the infrequent type of user, these individuals seem to build their self-identity around the marihuana-using peer group.




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