Boys May be More Swayed by Marijuana Trends
> 3/5/2008 2:44:27 PM

The Monitoring the Future study, a yearly survey of approximately 50,000 high-school students, continues to yield valuable insights into the drug habits of our nation’s youth. The March issue of Prevention Science contains an intriguing analysis of the data as it relates to the behavior of “deviance prone” youth.

“Deviance prone” is a designation for children endangered by their inclinations towards petty crime, thrill seeking, and disaffection with society. Dr. Michelle Little, head of the Prevention Research Center at Arizona State University, culled a number of useful observations about this troubled group from the Monitoring the Future data from 1979 to 2004. While it has long been known that deviance prone children are more likely to become frequent marijuana abusers, this analysis determined that they are also at a higher risk for casual use. In and of itself, this occasional use may not be a sign of eminent danger, but as Dr. Little contends this risk is something that parents should be very concerned about.

The second revelation from this analysis is that girls do not significantly alter their marijuana consumption in response to national trends. Boys, however, smoke more when marijuana is more popular around the country. The reason for this gender difference could not be determined with this analysis alone, but Dr. Little speculates that it is may be due to the fact that boys are more influenced by the perception of which drugs are cool.

There are a few gaps in Dr. Little’s analysis that ought to eventually be filled. For one thing, she chose not to deal with data on minority students' use. Secondly, the trends examined here were only national averages. It would be illuminating to see local averages because the use of a drug in your town is more likely to affect your perception of its coolness than its general prevalence in places you have little contact with.

Dr. Little’s work does not justify abandoning deviance prone girls to marijuana abuse, but it does suggest that more public relations effort should be focused on boys. The perception of a drug often has a stronger effect on use than scientific evidence, at least for some populations. One last interesting point that can be extrapolated from this analysis is that panics over “drug epidemics” really do have some validity. Just as fashion fads like bellbottoms can come back in cycles, marijuana and other drugs can surge in popularity.

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