ADDICTION RESEARCH FOUNDATION
TORONTO, July 29 /CNW/ – Students who smoke marijuana are unlikely
to be influenced by anti-cannabis messages from adults, according to
a new study by the Addiction Research Foundation (ARF).
Students in the qualitative study tended to regard social or
occasional marijuana use as acceptable and normal among their peers.
On the other hand, these same students also recognized marijuana is
potentially harmful and were likely to set their own rules or limits
for using the drug.
The study was undertaken in an attempt to understand the attitudes
of students towards marijuana. Earlier ARF research, the Ontario
Student Drug Use Survey, had found marijuana use almost doubled
between 1993 and 1995, to 22.7 per cent, and that fewer students
perceived risks in using marijuana. Preliminary results from this
year’s survey indicate that there has been no further increase in
marijuana use, although there is still the question of why marijuana
use rose in previous years.
The new ARF study consisted of 49 focus groups in nine high schools
across Ontario. A total of 278 students participated in the groups.
They came from both public and private schools and had a variety of
cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The study was undertaken to explore
students’ opinions about marijuana use and the role of peers and
adults in shaping attitudes and behavior.
“Most of the students told us that they regard recreational use as
the norm. Marijuana doesn’t have the same symbolic meaning of
rebelliousness for them as it did in their parents’ youth,” said
Dr. Jessica Warner, the ARF scientist who led the study. Two of the
most important factors influencing the students’ attitudes were
their own personal experiences and the credibility of the people
giving them information. Many of the study participants expressed
the opinion that while they would not pressure a friend into smoking
marijuana, it was more acceptable to refuse if the person had some
experience with it.
Most participants questioned the credibility of drug information and
adults who gave them anti-drug messages. For example, parents who
had never smoked marijuana were judged not to be credible sources of
information on the drug, while parents who did admit to previous
marijuana use were criticized for their “do as I say, not as I do”
There were few signs that students were pressured into trying
marijuana, but the study found that peer influence did play a role.
Many students said they smoked marijuana in an effort to fit into a
social group. However, the same peer group would also influence them
not to use marijuana excessively. Occasional use at parties was
generally viewed as acceptable, but daily use was not. Other illicit
drugs were also widely judged to be unacceptable.
“This study has major implications for drug education and
prevention programs,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, President of ARF.
“The students we talked to are unlikely to follow `just say no’
messages, yet they seem to regulate the way they use marijuana to
avoid potential problems. They also clearly differentiate between
marijuana and other `harder’ drugs.
“School boards and public health agencies should be evaluating
their drug education programs to see if they are achieving their
goals. They should concentrate their resources on those students who
need help the most, the ones at risk of developing serious drug
problems. They need to go beyond simply handing out information to
delivering comprehensive programs w real support for the students
and help them build life skills,” The opinions expressed in the
focus groups are not necessar representative of the total student
population. However, the re qualitative study can be the starting
point for future research, in pilots of new education and prevention
programs, and help devel questions to ask in large population
Ontario’s High School Students Speak Out About Marijuana
Addiction Research Foundation
News Media Backgrounder
The Purpose of this Qualitative Study:
The focus groups were established to explore issues raised by ARF’s
Ontario Student Drug Use Survey. This is a large, quantitative study
which has surveyed thousands of students across Ontario every two
years since 1977. Drug use among Ontario students today is much
lower than it was in the 1970s. However, marijuana use nearly
doubled between 1993 and 1995 to 22.7 per cent, and the survey found
that fewer students perceived risks in using marijuana.
The results from this recent qualitative study will provide public
health professionals and school boards with some new insight into
students’ attitudes, and could help them refine or refocus their
drug education and prevention programs. This study could also be the
starting point for further research into teens’ perceptions and
– People who smoked marijuana occasionally or recreationally were
judged to be socially popular by many study participants. The
influence of peers or the social group encouraged occasional use
only. Most participants viewed smoking marijuana daily or
excessively as socially unacceptable. They also generally looked
down upon people who used other illicit drugs.
– The attitudes of the study participants were shaped by their own
personal experiences and the observed experiences of siblings and
peers. Most observed little or no negative consequences from
occasional marijuana use. The participants were likely to
disregard those anti-marijuana messages which were at variance
with what they had observed. This finding fits in with changes of
attitude reported in the 1995 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey,
which found fewer students perceived risks in using marijuana.
– Many participants believed that once an individual has tried
marijuana, he or she may credibly refuse an offer to use it on
another occasion. People who had not tried marijuana were often
viewed as unqualified to reject marijuana out of hand.
– Several participants talked about peer pressure, but there was
little evidence that they had actually been pressured by someone
to try marijuana. Many did say, however, they smoked marijuana to
fit in with a social group.
– Marijuana use among today’s teens does not symbolize rebellion as
it did among teens in the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, many
participants in the study tended to regard their peers who use
marijuana occasionally as mainstream, conventional teens.
– There appeared to be few observable differences between the
children of immigrants in the study and other participants.
First-generation students in the study did tend to receive strict
anti-drug messages from their parents, however, many of them had
the same attitudes towards marijuana as children of parents born
– 49 focus groups in nine high schools across Ontario, with 278
participants (155 males, 123 females). The participants were
recruited from Grades 9, 11, and 13. The high schools were chosen to
get a sample that was representative of Ontario’s geographic and
socio-economic diversity. The focus groups were conducted in 1996 and
– Two schools were single-sex private schools, the rest were
co-educational and public.
– Participants knew in advance what the focus groups would be
discussing. They were asked about attitudes and perceptions. They
were not asked about their own experiences with marijuana,
although many students willingly talked about their own use.
Examples of ARF Youth Programs:
– ARF has published a series of informative booklets for teens:
About Marijuana, About Alcohol, About Cocaine, and About Smoking.
– The Personal Skills Program was developed several years ago by ARF to
help prevent high-risk youth, aged 14 to 17, from developing alcohol
and other drug problems. Opening Doors, a new ARF program, builds on
the work of the earlier program and is aimed at students in Grade 9
who are at risk of developing problems related to drug use, such as
dropping out of school and getting low marks.
– ARF also created the Youth Action Program, designed to develop 13 to
19-year-olds with leadership potential into “peer helpers,” who will
help high-risk youth with alcohol and drug problems.
For further information: ARF Public Relations and Fundraising,
(416) 595-6015, No.12 (97-98)