Drug Policy

Does Smoking Pot Make You a Better Friend and Athlete?

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A Swiss study reported in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine finds that teenagers who smoke just marijuana seem to be better adjusted than teenagers who smoke tobacco as well as pot. Specifically, they are more likely to have good grades and to play sports, and they are less likely to get drunk, smoke pot heavily, or start smoking pot before age 15. The pot-only smokers also compared favorably in some respects to abstainers: They were more likely to attend high school, play sports, and have good relationships with friends, although they were also less likely to have good relationships with their parents and more likely to skip class and drink.

According to the logic applied by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse or the Office of National Drug Control Policy, we'd have to say, based on these results, that smoking pot leads to better friendships, lower dropout rates, and increased participation in athletics, while smoking tobacco makes you stupid and lazy. A more plausible explanation is that the sort of teenagers who smoke cigarettes are more inclined to use other drugs early and heavily, and less inclined to play sports or do well in school, than the sort of teenagers who smoke pot but not cigarettes. Likewise, the sort of teenagers who try pot may be more sociable than the sort who don't. According to the study, they are more "sensation seeking," which may have something to do with their participation in sports. In all likelihood, these correlations are due to personality traits and environmental factors, as opposed to the pharmacological effects of cannabis or tobacco. 

The Swiss study reminds me of the controversy over a 1990 study by Jonathan Shedler and Jack Block that I describe in my book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use:

Tracking a group of children from preschool until age 18, the two University of California at Berkeley researchers found that "adolescents who had engaged in some drug experimentation (primarily marijuana) were the best-adjusted in the sample. Adolescents who used drugs frequently were maladjusted, showing a distinct personality syndrome marked by interpersonal alienation, poor impulse control, and manifest emotional distress. Adolescents who, by age 18, had never experimented with any drug were relatively anxious, emotionally constricted, and lacking in social skills."

Shedler and Block did not conclude that a little pot is just the thing to help children grow up right. Rather, they found that "psychological differences between frequent users, experimenters, and abstainers could be traced to the earliest years of childhood and related to the quality of parenting received." They observed that "problem drug use is a symptom, not a cause, of personal and social maladjustment" and that "the meaning of drug use can be understood only in the context of an individual's personality structure and developmental history."

Predictably, that study caused an uproar among "drug treatment" and "drug education" specialists, who said it was irresponsible to portray "dabbling with drugs" as "part of normal adolescent experimentation" and worried that kids who had decided not to use drugs would now be seen as "a bunch of geeks and dorks." But the most important point to take away from studies like these is the distinction between drug use and drug abuse. While early, heavy pot smoking (or drinking) is cause for concern, an occasional puff (or beer) does not portend disaster, and may in fact be associated with somewhat better social and academic outcomes.

Here is the Reuters story about the study.

[Thanks to Bruce Mirken at the Marijuana Policy Project for the tip.]

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  1. worried that kids who had decided not to use drugs would now be seen as “a bunch of geeks and dorks.”

    I didn’t, and I was both geek and dork. So basically, they’re against truth in advertising.

  2. Seriously, it’s not this study that makes people see me as a geek and/or dork.

  3. “Shedler and Block did not conclude that a little pot is just the thing to help children grow up right. Rather, they found that ‘psychological differences between frequent users, experimenters, and abstainers could be traced to the earliest years of childhood and related to the quality of parenting received.‘” (emphasis added)

    Since you’re in a mood to be skeptical about conventional wisdom on cause and effect, it’s a good time to remind you of Judith Rich Harris‘ debunking of the Nurture Assumption, too.

  4. Legate Damar,

    You’d like to think you were a geek and a dork, buy in actuality, you were a spazz.

  5. We must outlaw tobacco use and encourrage our kids to choose pot instead! It makes them more successful!

  6. Wow! A little reefer doesn’t really turn you into a couch potato zombie outcast loner stoner? Who’a a thunk it?

    30 million Americans simultaneously raise their hands, shouting, I did! I did!

    Somebody oughta tell DARE.

  7. I think my collection of Firefly DVD’s would be the deciding factor in my geektitude.

    Although I usually watch the shows high, so what does that tell you about the study?

  8. This makes sense to me. Kids who smoke tobacco tend, statistically, to care less about their health, which probably correlates to lower self-esteem. Also, they tend to have less willpower to both resit peer pressure and fight off addiction than kids who abstain from the nasty and unhealthy tobacco habit.

  9. This makes sense to me. Kids who smoke tobacco tend, statistically, to care less about their health, which probably correlates to lower self-esteem. Also, they tend to have less willpower to both resit peer pressure and fight off addiction than kids who abstain from the nasty and unhealthy tobacco habit.

    I agree. As a pack-a-day smoker, I can tell you I had no self-esteem in high school. But I think it’s more than that.

    The nature of tobacco addiction, at least in my experience, is that cigarette make you want to consume anything, especially when you’re trying to quit. Partially because of this, I drink faster, and therefore get more drunk, than non-smokers.

  10. “According to the logic applied by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse or the Office of National Drug Control Policy, we’d have to say, based on these results, that smoking pot leads to better friendships, lower dropout rates, and increased participation in athletics, while smoking tobacco makes you stupid and lazy.”

    Preaching to the choir, honey, preaching to the choir.

  11. I would not completely rule out the possibility that smoking/drinking underage makes you cooler. Speaking from personal experience as someone who had a giant “but it’s against the rules” stick up his butt for much of his youth, trying cigarettes and drinking for the first time when I was in high school really loosened me up and made me more personable. It also tends to make kids who previously looked down on their peers for engaging in these behaviors realize that there’s nothing inherently wrong with smoking/drinking occasionally, which makes them more likable in general.

  12. This study is BS, it is impossible for anyone to smoke pot and not ruin their life, any use is abuse. Tobacco is possible to use after age 18 responsibly, and alcohol cannot be used responsibly by children under 21, but can be used responsibly at 21. This is scientificaly not disputed by the experts.

  13. Taktix?,

    Good luck with quiting, if you want to.

  14. When you own 10,000 comic books, all of the pot and cigs in the world can’t cover the stench of geekiness.

  15. The nature of tobacco addiction, at least in my experience, is that cigarette make you want to consume anything, especially when you’re trying to quit. Partially because of this, I drink faster, and therefore get more drunk, than non-smokers.

    I drink less when smoking. But that’s because I can’t multitask for shit.

  16. I think my collection of Firefly DVD’s would be the deciding factor in my geektitude.

    That’s just one box set. Try hiding an almost-complete set of “Doctor Who” DVDs.

  17. The nature of tobacco addiction, at least in my experience, is that cigarette make you want to consume anything, especially when you’re trying to quit. Partially because of this, I drink faster, and therefore get more drunk, than non-smokers.

    Fucking A rights. That’s why people gain weight when they stop smoking, at least for a while.
    That’s also why alcoholics, when they quit drinking, will actually begin to smoke more.
    By the way, Taktix, I’m on my second week sans cigarettes.

  18. That’s just one box set.

    Try:

    1 Box set of original release
    2 Copy of Serenity HD
    3 Box set of original series HD
    4 Graphic novel “Those Left Behind” bridging the gap between series and movie.

  19. As far as quitting, screw that. I’d rather die indulgent and 50 in a shady hotel instead of abstinent and 75 in a crappy retirement home.

  20. Jacob,

    I keep wondering why you don’t pursue the various neurochemistry angles. Different people often prefer different psychoactive drugs because different drugs help them “feel right”. It is quite possible that kids who use pot regularly are actually dosing themselves very well for their own neurochemistry. It may be that pot is a particularly easy drug to self-medicate.

    I’ve known a number of people throughout my life who regularly self-medicated with pot, tobacco, or alcohol and rarely ever used any drug to excess. The only ones that I’ve seen go off of the “recreational” drug were the tobacco users who found the same effect in Wellbutrin.

  21. Taktix, then keep up the good work.

    Is there really anyone under the age of 55 (who isn’t trying to mullify the Geritol set) that really sees pot as a major threat? Anyone? Buhler?

  22. Use pot, not tobacco!

    Make love and money, not war!

    (That’s right, I’m a libertarian boomer.)

    Full discloser: In the past like 27 years, I’ve used pot only 3 times-but still!

  23. I’d have to agree on using pot for “increased participation in athletics”
    I can’t run without it!

  24. Tbone, you know that entire side of the right wing that has no political principles besides “if it irritates liberals, it must be good” and/or “fuck hippies”? Yeah, them.

    Quite the experience to be on the receving end of a prohibition argument from a popped-collar college republican with blunt in his hands and ironic rap on the stereo. Here it is in a nutshell: it doesn’t keep me from smoking when I feel like it, so only faggot stoner losers care about actually making weed legal

  25. I’d have to agree on using pot for “increased participation in athletics”
    I can’t run without it!

    I am like 20 times better at Halo when I’m stoned…

  26. “Does Smoking Pot Make You a Better Friend and Athlete?”

    I don’t know the answer but, incidentally, I have noticed that after I’ve had a couple of drinks, women seem to find me irresistible.

  27. Adolescents who used drugs frequently were maladjusted, showing a distinct personality syndrome marked by interpersonal alienation, poor impulse control, and manifest emotional distress.

    Pretty much sums up myself from 12-16. Then I went sXe and became anxious, emotionally constricted, and lacking in social skills, but in a totally punk rawk way.

  28. Specifically, they are more likely to have good grades and to play sports, and they are less likely to get drunk, smoke pot heavily, or start smoking pot before age 15.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t have a dog in this race, but how can teenagers who smoke pot be less likely to smoke pot before 15 than teenagers who don’t smoke pot at all?

  29. Heh, never mind, I just RTFA…the others were those who smoked tobacco AND pot.

  30. Again, no surprise with the findings, but still wondering whether all the attention paid to pot on these boards is counter productive, given the general conception of Libertoids as “stoner republicans”

    or who knows… maybe they’re right 🙂 Im certainly not helping dissuade the stereotype.

  31. The term “well adjusted” is enough to raise my hackles. Well adjusted to what? The term seems synonymous with someone who is likely to follow manufactured consensus out of fear of social disaproval.
    It’s a perfectly Soviet term..

  32. smoking a big fat oiler gave me the motivation to go out for cross country

  33. Is this really a story? Could you also say that people who snort just coke are better adjusted than people who snort coke and meth? I’m looking for the story here.

  34. Is there really anyone under the age of 55 (who isn’t trying to mullify the Geritol set) that really sees pot as a major threat?

    Yes: me.

    But, you see, while I’m for radical sober self-realization, I’m also for radical sober liberty.

    I reserve the right to “tsk” while teetotaling in an early-model land barge.

  35. Well, I don’t know about well-adjusted but I can say this: My father made it clear that he would kick my ass from here to breakfast if he ever caught me doing drugs or drinking. Therefore, since he was a big guy, I didn’t drink or do drugs in high school.

    The Swiss mistake is trying to correlate anything connected to high school with reality.

    I know that there are a small minority of people whose high school years may predict success of one kind or another. But for the most part, whatever you were in high school is not in any way a precursor of your adult self and what you will accomplish. I have hard empirical evidence to back that up. They’re called my friends. 🙂 Only one of them ended up like my dad predicted he would.

  36. yeah, TWC… good for you. Now you’re a wine-swilling hedonist living a life of leisure in hawaii. 🙂

  37. Hmm, I never smoked pot or tobacco nor drank while in high school and I was also a reticent geek who even today suffers tremendous social anxiety. The social anxiety may be related to being a black man who can’t dance.

  38. Why, I wonder does this article not discuss the well documented deleterious health effects of marijuana smoking?

  39. “Try:

    1 Box set of original release
    2 Copy of Serenity HD
    3 Box set of original series HD
    4 Graphic novel “Those Left Behind” bridging the gap between series and movie.”

    And when you are done with that, try a one way ticket to your parent’s basement. Don’t worry about buying condoms because you will never need to worry about getting laid.

  40. Drugs are not going to help anyone in anyway…I am not agree with this study…

    Phobias can be created due to Anxiety and panic. Phobias are often self-induced and/or imagined fears that cause panic and nervousness while preventing us from achieving in life. The different types of phobias include AGORAPHOBIA, which panic attacks often take place from disorders. Other types of phobias include socialization phobias, simple phobias, and so forth. Some of the major phobias led by anxiety and panic originate from OCD – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, PTSD – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder etc.

  41. I don’t believe that pot has more benefits over tobacco, although it does make sense that it has less chemicals.

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