Pot Shot

Offers a look at why marijuana is losing popularity as a cool after-school activity. Large-scale change in the perception of risk; Statistics; Nature's own burn-and-learn drug policy; Attitudes being influenced by media; Use of illicit drugs is also falling.

By PT Staff, published on May 1, 1992 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The war on drugs has been one of the Notable flops of the presentadministration. Marijuana, still the most popular illicit drug (and usually the first to be tried), is as available as ever. Yet smoking pot is losing popularity as a cool after-school activity. What gives?

There's been a large-scale change in the perception of risk, claims Lloyd D. Johnston, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan's noted Institute for Social Research. And he should know. Every year, he conducts a national survey of drug use among high-school seniors and college students. His findings? From 1990 to 1991, marijuana use fell from 27% to 24% among seniors, and from 29% to 27% among college students in general.

The percentage of students who believe there is great risk in smoking pot is steadily increasing. And the percentage of high-schod seniors who say it is fairly or very easy to obtain the drug is dropping (although in reality it is thought to be as accessible as ever).

Explains Johnston: "Enough time has gone by since the peak of drug use for people to see some of the dangerous results firsthand. It's simply not enough for students to read policies or watch exaggerated documentaries. They must go through a natural learning process. This occurs when someone has a bad drug experience, or when someone close to them does."

A decided vote for the generative theory of learning--the only way to know something is to generate the answer yourself. Nature's own burn-andlearn drug policy.

Kids' attitudes are being influenced by a media shift as well. "In the past," says Johnston, "bile-show hosts and other entertainers used to kind of smile and wink while they spoke about the dangers of drugs. It was a big joke. You rarely see that type of implicit approval anymore."

Use of other illicit drugs is also falling. Cocaine use is down, and even alcohol use has started a downward trend, falling 3% among high-school seniors. But LSD is making a comeback--only because today's students were innocent tots when an older cohort was having bad trips, says Johnston. And if he's right, it'll soon be on a journey to nowhere.