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Marijuana Use Among College Students 1


Marijuana Use Among College Students and Perceived Use

Michael Croghan

Saint Louis University

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Marijuana use is prevalent amongst college students and has many perceptions,

such as decreased performance in school yet a less impairing force than alcohol. Two

research studies are summarized, one describing the associations between the perceived

norms of marijuana and social expectancies of college students and another studying the

perceptions of driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, respectively. The

findings of these articles are combined and analyzed with the preconceived notions of the

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Marijuana use amongst college students consists of the recreational use of

marijuana by young adults between the approximate ages of eighteen and twenty-four.

Marijuana use, by my observations, has been associated with poor performance in school,

a lack of ambition in school and career, and use of other illicit drugs. While negative

connotations about marijuana use have seemed to increase each decade, I have found it

still maintains a less impairing reputation than alcohol amongst my peers.

Marijuana use by college students interests me for many reasons. First, some of

my immediate friends use marijuana, and so studies on its use and effects can be useful so

that I can better inform them. Secondly, I have found that there are varying opinions on

marijuana use and its effects, and I am skeptical of the sources. Thus, I find it is

important to find reputable sources to sort researched truths from propagated lies. Lastly,

I am interested in how my opinions about marijuana use compare with other college


The first article I read was a research article from the University of Washington

entitled Perceived Marijuana Norms and Social Expectancies Among Entering College

Student Marijuana Users by Neighbors, Geisner, and Lee (2008). Their research

described the descriptive and injunctive perceived social norms amongst freshmen

marijuana users, their social expectancies, and their marijuana use. Descriptive norms

include perceived use amongst their friends, and injunctive norms include approval of

marijuana use amongst their friends. Social expectancies include what they expect the

social consequences of marijuana use to be, and marijuana use measures the amount of

marijuana used (Neighbors, Geisner, and Lee, 2008).

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The authors concede that current research has shown social influences are

strongly associated with risk-related behaviors, such as drinking alcohol and smoking

marijuana, and there is an association between perceived norms and marijuana use.

There is no current research on the effects of injunctive and descriptive norms on

predicting marijuana use, however, and they believe it is important to study (Neighbors,

Geisner, and Lee, 2008).

There are three hypotheses in this study. First, a positive correlation exists

between descriptive norms, injunctive norms, social expectancies and the frequency and

consequences of marijuana use. Secondly, there is a stronger association between

personal marijuana use and use amongst one’s peers when there is a greater approval of

use amongst peers. Lastly, a stronger correlation would exist between perceived norms

and marijuana use when positive social expectancies are present and that these

correlations would help predict marijuana related consequences (Neighbors, Geisner, and

Lee, 2008)..

The methodology included participants that were high school graduates attending

a large public university the following year between the ages of 17 and 19. The authors

gathered names from the registrar and conducted a web survey asking about behavior

relating to alcohol and marijuana. Participants received ten dollars. Women and

Caucasians were overrepresented, and African Americans were underrepresented. The

average age in the study was greater than the average age of the freshman population. If

there was use in the previous ninety days, those participants were asked to take another

survey. Out of the 370 who reported use, 351 took the next survey. The demographics

were 55% female, 17.97 years of age, 76% Caucasian, 9% Asian, and 15% other
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ethnicities. Participants in this survey received thirty dollars (Neighbors, Geisner, and

Lee, 2008).

The authors measured social norms by asking about friends’ use, or descriptive

norms, and friends’ approval, or injunctive norms. They measured social expectancies by

asking 48 questions about social effects of the use of marijuana. They measured

marijuana use by asking about frequency of use in the last 90 days and frequency of

negative consequences in the past 90 days (Neighbors, Geisner, and Lee, 2008)..

The authors analyzed the data using SPS 14.0 analyses. More specifically, they

used the data to analyze the effects of injunctive and descriptive norms, along with social

expectancies on frequency of marijuana use and its consequences (Neighbors, Geisner,

and Lee, 2008).

The results were an average use of 11 days, with a range of 1-85 in the past 90

days. The average number of negative problems was 2, with a range of 0-17 in the past

90 days. There was a positive association between higher frequency of marijuana use and

perceived descriptive and injunctive norms along with social expectancies. The results

were the same with consequences with regards to perceived descriptive norms and social

expectancies, except injunctive norms was not positively associated with use (Neighbors,

Geisner, and Lee, 2008).

The results of the study were mostly expected, with one exception. The negative

association between injunctive norms and consequences was unexpected. There were

limitations to the study, which included the limitations of the variable used, i.e. number of

days used, and self-report. It is not clear how well the variable number of days accounts
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for use, and self-report is an issue when dealing with illegal drugs, although

confidentiality was ensured (Neighbors, Geisner, and Lee, 2008).

The second article was Driving After Use of Alcohol and Marijuana in College

Students by McCarthy, Lynch, and Pedersen (2007). Their research described the

perceptions of college students about the dangers and consequences of driving under the

influence of alcohol and marijuana. The authors acknowledge a high rate of fatalities due

to car accidents amongst college-aged students, that a high rate of those killed were

intoxicated, and that a high rate of college-aged students admit to drinking and driving.

The authors contend that marijuana use is prevalent among this age group as well, and

thus want to study driving after its use (McCarthy, Lynch, and Pedersen, 2007).

The first hypothesis of the study was that driving after marijuana use is more

acceptable to peers than driving after alcohol consumption, that it is not as dangerous,

and that it is less likely to have harmful consequences. The second hypothesis was that a

greater acceptance, lower predictions of danger, and lower expected probability of

harmful consequences of driving after marijuana use would be associated with a greater

probability and frequency of driving after the use of alcohol or marijuana (McCarthy,

Lynch, and Pedersen, 2007).

The participants in the study included students from an Introduction to

Psychology class at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Of the 599 participants, 59%

were female and the average age was 18.54. The ethnicities were 87% Caucasian, 7%

African American, 3% Asian, 3% mixed or other, and 3% Hispanic. Data was collected

in groups that numbered between 10 and 25, and partial credit for a research requirement

was given to participants (McCarthy, Lynch, and Pedersen, 2007).

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The study measured demographic information, including age, gender, religion,

and ethnicity. The authors studied normative beliefs by asking questions about

disapproval by friends of drinking and driving and the probability friends would refuse a

ride from someone who has been drinking. The same types of questions were asked with

regards to marijuana. The authors measured attitudes by asking questions about the

dangers of driving after drinking alcohol and the dangers of driving after smoking

marijuana. The study measured perceived negative consequences by asking about the

perceived risks of being stopped by police, being tested for alcohol consumption or

marijuana use, getting arrested, and getting in a car accident. The authors studied alcohol

and marijuana use by asking questions to determine alcohol and marijuana habits. The

study also measured driving after substantial use by asking questions regarding how often

the participant drove under both influences respectively in the past three months

(McCarthy, Lynch, and Pedersen, 2007).

The results were that 55% of current drinkers drove after drinking in the past three

months and 47% of current smokers drove after smoking in the past three months. Also,

greater alcohol use was associated with greater acceptance by peers and the perception

that driving after drinking is not as dangerous. Greater alcohol use was only weakly

associated with perceived negative consequences about drinking and driving. Frequency

of marijuana use was associated with every variable, namely peer acceptance, perceived

dangers of driving after marijuana use, and perceived consequences. Also, frequency of

substance use was positively associated with increased drinking and driving and smoking

and driving. Lastly, lower perceived dangers and greater peer acceptance was associated
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with greater probability and frequency of driving after use of either substance (McCarthy,

Lynch, and Pedersen, 2007).

The findings of the study support the hypothesis that marijuana users find driving

after smoking less impairing than diving after drinking, although the results differed

depending on the number of drinks. As alcohol consumption increased, perceived

dangers of drinking and driving increased and surpassed smoking and driving. There are

limits to the study, however. Self-reporting about illegal drug use, regardless of

confidentiality, is not always accurate. Also, there was no quantity of marijuana use

studied, and the effect of that variable is unknown as amount used per day increases

(McCarthy, Lynch, and Pedersen, 2007).

Both studies affirmed some preconceived notions I held about marijuana use in

college students. The study about driving after marijuana use affirmed the opinion that I

have heard propagated that it is less dangerous to drive after using marijuana than after

alcohol. Also, the first study affirmed the opinion that I previously held, but did not think

to include in my introduction, that increases in frequency of use of marijuana are

associated with an increase in perceived approval and use by friends of users. I did not

expect to find the percentage of alcohol and marijuana users who drive under the

influence to be so high, although most surveys and figures I have previously seen did not

indicate whether they asked only current users or all college students. Nonetheless, I was

surprised by how high the numbers were.

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McCarthy, D. M., Lynch, A. M., Pedersen, S. L. (2007). Driving After Use of Alcohol

and Marijuana in College Students. Psychology of Addictive Behavior 21(3).

Retrieved October 21, 2008, from PsycARTICLES database.

Neighbors, C., Geisner, I. M., Lee, C. M. (2008). Perceived Marijuana Norms and Social

Expectancies Among Entering College Student Marijuana Users. Psychology of

Addictive Behavior 22(3). Retrieved October 21, 2008, from PsycARTICLES