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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

Sociocultural Factors

After the individual views himself as a drug user and has become immersed in the drug-using subculture, the drugs he chooses to experiment with and his pattern of use are determined primarily by non-drug factors well beyond the simple properties of the psychoactive chemical. These factors are predominantly socioeconomic and sociocultural, although psychic and somatic factors also play a role in determining who will continue and how intensively.

The availability of a distribution system which stocks the other drugs is essential. Most often, contact with this distribution system is increased by having friends or acquaintances who use or sell other drugs. However, much of the marihuana selling takes place, at the customer level between friends, and involves little profit and relatively small quantities of the drug. The marihuana user who only buys has little contact with the professional multidrug dealing system. However, the user-buyer-seller of marihuana is more involved with the multidrug system, uses more himself and has more friends who use and sell other drugs. This factor of being a seller rather than only a buyer-user is influential in determining the degree of an individual's involvement with and commitment to the use of other drugs.

Marihuana use does not itself determine which drugs the heavily involved user will choose to use. Generally, the selection of other drugs is influenced by the social group. For example, blacks and whites have roughly equal rates of trying and using marihuana, but their choice of other drugs and the styles of drug use are quite different and distinctive, due to their frequently different sociocultural backgrounds. Additionally, one recent study of white high school and college students revealed different patterns of further drug use among males and females. Men and women used marihuana in equal numbers, but the men who used other drugs tended to use hallucinogens while the women tended to use amphetamines.

An extensive survey of drug use among 3,500 liberal arts undergraduates attending 14 campuses in the New York area demonstrated the racial character of drug use among this population (Table 5).


Meth- Amphet- Hallu-

Percentage tried drugs Heroin Cocaine amphet- amine cinogens


Blacks................ 9 16 5 9 13

Whites................ 4 7 11 19 21

According to recent studies, heroin usage is not common among white marihuana users. Heroin is most strongly linked to marihuana use in black and Spanish-speaking ghettos where many feel they have little chance of personal advancement and self-fulfillment. In such communities, a segment of the population constructs new illegitimate but accessible avenues for social coping. For some this involves the hustle (non-violent stealing) and the excitement of obtaining and using heroin and cocaine. They regard marihuana as a "cool" drug and use it for its social and calming effects.

In contrast, studies have demonstrated that the psychedelics are more often used by the white, middle to upper middle class, collegeeducated populations. The typical use of these drugs in high school college and working populations is episodic and experimental, and is usually discontinued rather rapidly in contrast with marihuana use, which for many persons is of long duration. In many instances, psychedelic drug use begins almost simultaneously with marihuana.

For a few, drug use becomes an ideologic focus, reflecting disillusionment with society and rejection of the "establishment." These and other motives, including mere pleasure-seeking, lead to continued use of LSD and other hallucinogens. Marihuana is viewed as a dilute LSD and is often used to enhance or prolong the effects of that drug. Sometimes it is encountered after first LSD use.

Methamphetamine, or "speed," use is more characteristic of those lower socioeconomic white, youth who are not school or work oriented. Living for the moment is the characteristic attitude of the speed scene. The speed user views marihuana as he does alcohol and uses it for fun or for its calming effects.

For these three groups of illicit drug users, marihuana use has different meanings and is secondary in importance to the use of the other drugs. Whether or not marihuana leads to other drug use depends on the individual, on the social and cultural setting in which the drug use takes places, and on the nature of the drug market. Its use, however, is neither inevitable nor necessary.




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