Studying Cannabis on Campus, Pt. 2

jar of bud
Photo by Justin Cannabis

A new study in the March 2017 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors takes a look at “College Student Marijuana Involvement” through an examination of “perceptions, use, and consequences across 11 college campuses” by Matthew Pearson, Bruce, Liese, and Robert Dvorak. Part One of this column described the study and reviewed the issue of problematic and non-problematic consequences of marijuana use. However, this study provides additional information of interest about cannabis on campus.

Marijuana users in this study of over 8,000 college students over-estimate how often the typical college student consumes marijuana compared to their own use. College students also perceive that the typical student used marijuana more frequently than they do.

Motivation to use marijuana is based on a common survey tool used to assess motivation for drinking alcohol; the now-standard evaluation tool for marijuana use motivation was derived by Jeffrey Simons and colleagues and reported in a 1998 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

In the Pearson study, they used multiple questions for each of five general motivations. The categories established by Simons et al are as follows: Using marijuana to get high is considered “enhancement,” trying to forget worries is considered “coping,” using marijuana to be sociable is “social,” using marijuana to fit in—to avoid being kidded for not using the drug in a peer groups—is considered “conformist.”  In addition, “expansionist” motives refer to increasing self-knowledge. Pearson and colleagues then used a Likert scale of 5 (always) to 1 (never) to assess why college students use marijuana.

It was most often reported to be for enhancement motives (score 3.65), followed by social (2.67), expansion (2.44), coping (2.20) and finally conformity (1.48) motives. In other words, college students mostly use cannabis to get high, to be sociable and to know themselves better.

Students report that cannabis is relatively easy to get (score 3.55), but also think that the typical college student finds it easier to get then they do. Also, college students tend to be in favor of legalization of medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and otherwise decriminalization of marijuana. However, they opposed legalization with respect to selling to or use by children. Most disagreed with the proposition that “people cannot be addicted to marijuana” but also “agreed that using marijuana is safer than drinking alcohol.”

Lifetime users of marijuana, who have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime, are more likely to support legalization than non-users, though both categories support medical marijuana. Non-users of marijuana do not believe marijuana is safer than drinking alcohol.

The authors of this study are interested in the discrepancy in perception between self-use and use by others, something that has surfaced in other research. More research is needed, they argue, in how to “best target normative misperceptions surrounding marijuana use.” Such knowledge will be important in designing effective educational programs to promote safe use of marijuana and just what such programs should target and what aspects of marijuana use should be targeted “(e.g., frequency of marijuana use, quantity of marijuana use, marijuana-related consequences, protective behavioral strategies for marijuana)”.

For what it’s worth, both users and non-users perceive that their parents do not approve of marijuana use.

While not surprising, this underscores an important aspect of changing attitudes in the United States about marijuana and marijuana laws. The emergence of marijuana legalization as both a viable and popular policy change is as much due to demographic changes in the nation as it is political activism.

More older people have experience with marijuana and thus favor legalization, and more younger people are getting experience with marijuana and favor reform as well.

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