The Psychosocial Differences Between Drug Users of Different Frequencies Within a

University Setting

State University of New York at Stony Brook

After declining for a decade, marijuana use began to rise among young people beginning in 1990 (National Institute of Drug Abuse NIDA}, 1996). Marijuana is one drug whose use, although illegal and considered harmful, has been "normalized" and has become somewhat socially tolerable, comparable to such activities as alcohol use and gambling ( Hathaway 1997, Dixon, 1991, Stebbins 1996). Experimentation with marijuana has become a "tolerable deviance" in U.S. society according to Stebbins (1996) because of a number of reasons. One of which is the public\'s willingness to overlook the drug experimentation of national leaders. Also, the recent renewed debates over legalization and the positive messages portrayed by the media have led 34 states such as New York and California to decriminalize simple possession of the drug. In fact, in 1996 California passed Proposition 215, which legalizes the use of the drug for medicinal purposes. This trend toward social acceptance is reflected in the increased number of rallies to legalize the drug in recent years and the doubling of the number of donations to the Washington office of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws between 1993 and 1995 (Hathaway, 1996). Currently, a federal panel has urged further testing on the drug, as its medicinal uses are becoming increasing popular among seriously ill people and their doctors.
As for its non-medicinal usage, research conducted at the University of Stony Brook by way of the CORE Drug and Alcohol Survey has shown that 42% of students have used marijuana at least once during their lifetime and 21% are current users (have used in the past 30 days) (CORE Executive Summary, 1998). According to the Monitoring the Future study (Johnson, O\'Malley, & Bachman, 1997) it is the most commonly used illicit drug- with 46% of college students and 53% of young adults having used it in their lifetimes. As for recent use, 32% of college students and 27% of young adults have used marijuana during the last year. Recent usage figures have increased from 1991 but lifetime figures have remained the same. This would suggest that at different times, different cohorts of people tend to use the drug at one point in their lives and then discontinue their use. Also noted is a decrease in the perceived risk of its use. (NIDA, 1996).
Despite the increasing social tolerance of marijuana, its use is still widely prohibited; its use labeled as drug abuse. Clearly, the phrase "drug use" has a different connotation than the phrase "drug abuse". In fact, although a vast number of young adults have experimented with marijuana at some point in their lives, only a few become drug abusers in the full sense of the word (Shedler and Block, 1990). A drug “abuser”, according to the DSM IV’s criteria for substance abuse, is one who continuously uses a drug despite persistent social or interpersonal problems. This definition excludes those who do not use marijuana to this extent. In fact, little research has been done on the psychosocial adjustment of young adults who have experimented with drugs on an occasional basis relative to those who have completely abstained.
Psychological research on drug use among young adults is both an established and extensive field of study. Some researchers have attributed drug use to personality traits such as sensation seeking and to social factors such as family or peer drug use (Newcomb and Bentler, 1988; Zuckerman, 1979). A common theme in this type of research seeks to demonstrate that people who experiment with drugs are psychologically “worse off” than the non-using population. Researchers tend to label any and all types of drug users as psychologically impaired compared to subjects that completely abstain from drugs- asserting that total abstinence is the only condition for which a person is psychologically healthy (Shedler & Block, 1990).
Although, there are a number of scientific studies on marijuana use which contest this assumption (Shedler and Block, 1990; Hogan et al., 1970). It is apparent from the literature that marijuana stands out from harder drugs and tends to have unique schemas and prescriptions assigned to its usage (Becker,