Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Social Impact of Marihuana Use - The Population At Risk

US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Table of Contents
I. Marihuana and the Problem of Marihuana
Origins of the Marihuana Problem
The Need for Perspective
Formulating Marihuana Policy
The Report
II. Marihuana Use and Its Effects
The Marihuana User
Profiles of Users
Becoming a Marihuana User
Becoming a Multidrug User
Effects of Marihuana on the User
Effects Related to Pattern Use
Immediate Drug Effects
ShortTerm Effects
Long Term Effects
Very Long Term Effects
III. Social Impact of Marihuana Use
IV. Social Response to Marihuana Use
V. Marihuana and Social Policy
Drugs in a Free Society
A Social Control Policy for Marihuana
Implementing the Discouragement Policy
A Final Comment
Ancillary Recommendations
Legal and Law Enforcement Recommendations
Medical Recommendations
Other Recommendations
Letter of Transmittal
Members and Staff
History of Marihuana Use: Medical and Intoxicant
II. Biological Effects of Marihuana
Botanical and Chemical Considerations
Factors Influencing Psychopharmacological Effect
Acute Effects of Marihuana (Delta 9 THC)
Effects of Short-Term or Subacute Use
Effects of Long-Term Cannabis Use
Investigations of Very Heavy Very Long-Term Cannabis Users
III. Marihuana and Public Safety
Marihuana and Crime
Marihuana and Driving
Marihuana - Public Health and Welfare
Assessment of Perceived Risks
Preventive Public Health Concerns
Marihuana and the Dominant Social Order
The World of Youth
Why Society Feels Threatened
The Changing Social Scene
Problems in Assessing the Effects of Marihuana
Marihuana and Violence
Marihuana and (Non-Violent) Crime
Summary and Conclusions: Marihuana and Crime
Marihuana and Driving
History of Marihuana Legislation
History of Alcohol Prohibition
History of Tobacco Regulation
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National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Chapter III

Social Impact of marihuana use

The Population At Risk

Before the dangers can be assessed, the population at risk must be defined. Viewing the public health picture on a large scale, the United States in 1972 may still be considered fortunate with regard to marihuana usage. While it is the third most popular recreational drug, behind alcohol and tobacco, it has not been institutionalized and commercialized.

Most of the Americans who have used marihuana have been merely experimenting with it. As noted in Chapter 1, there are 24 million Americans who have tried marihuana at one time or another, with 8.3 million still using it. Of those who have quit, most say they have simply lost interest in it. The same Survey shows that experience with marihuana peaks in the 18-to-25-year-old group and falls off sharply thereafter. A fact of some significance is that at least 71% of all adults (18-years and older) and 80% of youth (12-to-17-years) have never used marihuana at all.*

The Survey also indicates that the majority of those youth and adults who continue to use marihuana do so intermittently, that is, between one and 10 times a month. These individuals are classified as intermittent marihuana smokers who use the drug for its socializing effects. They are, for the most part, ordinary Americans who are either in school or are employed.

About 2% of those who have ever used marihuana, or 500,000 people, now use the drug heavily. They use the drug several times a day. These individuals use marihuana for its personal drug effects in addition to its socializing effects. Generally, their life styles, values, attitudes, behaviors and activities are unconventional. Marihuana plays an important role in their lives. Because the risk of psychological, and perhaps physical, harm from marihuana increases with the frequency quantity and duration of its use, these heavy marihuana users constitute the greatest at-risk population in the United States today.

The heavy marihuana user presents the greatest potential concern to the, public health. It is the Commission's opinion that these heavy marihuana users constitute a source of contagion within American society. They actively proselytize others into a drug-oriented way of life. The effectiveness of peer group pressure has been described earlier in Chapter II

We anticipate that this at-risk population would increase in number should a policy of institutionalized availability be adopted toward marihuana. Although marihuana is readily available illicitly in the United States today, a policy permitting its legal distribution could be expected to bring about an increase in users, with some percentage of them becoming heavy users. It is the availability of the drug, coupled -with a governmental policy of approval or neutrality, that could escalate this group into a public health and welfare concern. While this is speculative, it is a concern which cannot be dismissed. The experience with the rise in the use of tobacco and alcohol makes clear the probable consequences of commercial exploitation.

Another concern of the Commission is the experience of other countries which have large heavy user populations. While the pattern of behavior in one country is not automatically similar to a pattern of behavior in another country, the existence of heavy user populations constitutes a serious public health concern which must be avoided in this country. The availability of the drug alone does not seem to determine increased usage; supply and governmental inaction appear to tip the balance toward increased use. The proportion of our population susceptible to this pattern of use is conjectural but good preventive public health requires limiting the number to an irreducible minimum.

*In the self-administered instrument, several separate questions were utilized to elicit the respondent's experience with marihuana. This technique permitted an analysis of consistency of responses, and also minimized the possibility of nonresponse. Nevertheless, 14% of the adults and 6% of the youth did not respond to enough of these questions to ascertain whether they had ever tried marihuana or not.

Percentage who- Adult Youth

Ever used ------------------------------------- 15 14

Never used ------------------------------------ 71 so

No response ----------------------------------- 14 6


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