Teen disapproval of the drug and perceptions of marijuana's hazards present a mirror-image of this usage pattern: in years when average levels of disapproval and perceived risk are high, average levels of use are low. (See figure.)
Earlier analyses from the Monitoring the Future study also have shown that marijuana use goes down when perceived risk and disapproval go up. What the new analyses show is that these changes cannot be explained by any shifts in the other lifestyle factors that were examined.
"Young people did not become distinctly more conservative or conventional in the 1980s, nor did they become distinctly less so in the 1990s," says Bachman. "So if we want to know why marijuana use is on the rise again, there is little value in asking whether young people are somehow becoming more rebellious or delinquent in general, because the evidence indicates that this is not the case.
"We need to ask why it is that young people have become less concerned in recent years about the risks of marijuana use, and why they do not disapprove of such use as strongly as students did just a few years earlier," says Bachman.
While the analysis does not include information on the reasons underlying teen
changes in attitude about marijuana's harmfulness, the authors have several
possible explanations. One is that teens today have had less opportunity to
learn vicariously about the hazards of drugs by observing drug users among their
acquaintances or public figures. Also, the decline in marijuana use during the
1980s may have lulled many members of social institutions, including government,
schools, media and families, into a false sense of complacency about the problem
of adolescent drug use.
Contact: Diane Swanbrow
University of Michigan