Marijuana Use in Youth Culture

                The use of marijuana by Canadian youth is ranked highest among any developed country, a study conducted for the World Health Organization has found. Its abundance, both as a topic of discussion and as an important health factor among youth, is clear in our society. In a day and age where the societal importance placed on alcohol is waning, and where being a non-smoker of tobacco is considered almost mandatory for acceptance among most younger social circles, the statistic about marijuana use among Canadian youth is puzzling. After all, since it is injested almost exclusively by smoking, should that not stigmatize its use in the first place?

The answer appears to be one that goes much deeper than simple logic and a few statistics. From the many colleagues I have worked with over the years in the school system, as well as clients of mine too numerous to count, here are a few potential answers for why marijuana use has not gone the way of tobacco smoking.

1)      It is relatively easy to obtain, and affordable to many teens. We have passed the era where marijuana must be bought from a shady character hanging around in a back alley a few blocks from school, or downtown. Chances are very good that a student wishing to experiment with this now-common drug can find a sibling, friend, or other trusted connection who can be the “middle-man”, and make the criminal stigma it has seem distant or absent.

2)      Our society and culture no longer send the overtly negative messages about marijuana and its use that it once did. In fact, there are many mixed messages being presented in our pop culture and social media. On one hand, it is not difficult to find information detailing the potential pitfalls of its use, especially to those whose brains and bodies are still growing and developing. On the other, it is just as easy to find pictures and articles talking not only about its lack of harm, but also about its desirability as a way to release the cares and stresses of the everyday world. In a culture where stress and natural health are well-regarded, these can be potent messages.

3)      Regardless of the generation or place, there is an ever-present need in youth and young adult culture to have a sort of rallying cry for rebelling, and feeling an enhanced sense of empowerment. In the fifties, Elvis and rock ‘n roll music provided this platform. In the sixties, it evolved into different genres of music, an increased categorizing of the relationship between parents and their children and “us against them”, and the emergence of a more mainstream drug culture. Growing up and graduating from high school in the eighties, I can easily remember cigarette smoking and alcohol use as being key methods to assert independence and fit in with peers in a cool way; and if one’s parents were not happy with it, so much the better.

It can be nearly impossible for parents to combat the influence of marijuana, both physically and culturally, in their families. Perhaps the most difficult challenge can be countering arguments that it isn’t actually harmful, and probably much less so than alcohol, for example. If parents and teens in a family cannot agree that something is in fact a problem, then either all in the home agree to let marijuana’s presence be accepted in order to avoid conflict, or a confrontation is likely to occur that probably will not result in a happy resolution for everyone. In the next column, I will wade a few steps into some of the effects (both positive and negative, by the way), for your own consideration.