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Cultural and Collective Interpretations of Regular Marijuana Use Impact on Work and School Performance: An Ethnographic Inquiry Jan Moravek, Bruce D. Johnson, Eloise Dunlap National Development and Research Institutes, New York Abstract
Objective: To compare users’ reports on how their cannabis consumption affects their work and school
performance with relevant cultural narratives. Methods: Ninety-two regular marijuana smokers were interviewed in New York City. A qualitative
content analysis of the in-depth interviews was juxtaposed with prevalent cultural and collective stories about the effects of marijuana use. Results: Cannabis users reported positive effects in reducing work-related stress, energizing the mind, or
enhancing creativity. Negative effects included difficult concentration, memory damage, and lack of motivation or “laziness”. Some discussed preventing adverse effects and resultant job performance losses by avoiding smoking before work or “controlling the high” while at work, yet others depicted negative consequences as unavoidable. Conclusions: Marijuana users spoke in both terms of mainstream narratives (the amotivational
syndrome, irresponsible use), and in contrasting collective narratives (glamorizing marijuana as having positive effects on work performance or no relevant consequences, and constructing use as controllable). Introduction
In this paper we focus upon the perceived impact of marijuana consumption on work and school performance. Analysis will examine experiences over time from the perspective of marijuana consumers. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
We explore the variety of experiences informants have had when they have smoked marijuana and gone to their jobs or their classrooms. Informants’ ideas of why they do not smoke on their jobs and in school will be further explored to focus on issues of informal social controls regulating use. Finally, we will interpret users’ accounts within a context of different popular beliefs or cultural narratives on the subject matter. We are going to argue that while some marijuana smokers seem to embrace cultural stories about pathological consequences of marijuana use and the inevitable irresponsibility of drug use, others discard those stories and tell their own collective stories. Such collective stories emphasize marijuana’s positive effects and/or users’ own agency. They construct drug use and possible harms to work and school Background
Abundant research literature discusses marijuana issues relevant to work and school performance. Recent reviews (e.g., Earleywine 2005; Hall & Pacula 2004; Joy, Watson, & Benson 2001; Zimmer & Morgan 1997) summarize the state of research on (1) the various detrimental effects of marijuana on capabilities deemed necessary for work and/or study (motivation, memory and cognition) and vehicle operation (visual perception, divided attention); (2) the drug’s positive effects on work ability (e.g., its subjective effects on stimulation, stress relief, or creativity); (3) certain harmful health effects potentially affecting work ability (progression to harder drugs, mental illness, worsened immune function, lung cancer, brain tissue damage); and (4) its medicinal value in treatment of conditions otherwise detrimental to work ability (pain, nausea, appetite loss, neurological disorders). Moreover, a number of studies have examined statistical relationships between and school/college performance, work performance, This paper analyzes users’ accounts on how they felt their consumption affects their work and school performance within a context of different popular beliefs or cultural narratives about marijuana. Therefore, we refrain from assessing the extensive available evidence about what harms or benefits DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
marijuana smoking causes to users, and instead focus on competing social constructions of these harms Richardson (1990) distinguishes between two kinds of cultural narratives: cultural stories and collective stories. A cultural story “creates and supports a social world by providing a general understanding of the stock of meanings and their relationships to each other.” A cultural story is told from the point of view of the ruling interests and conventional culture. In contrast, a collective story gives voice to those who are silenced or marginalized in the cultural narrative. It helps particular social groups develop their group consciousness and ‘galvanize’ group members. The collective story serves such groups to resist negative cultural narratives about the in-group (Richardson 1990: 24-26). In these stories, people employ an explicit challenge to what they know to be popular beliefs (Silverman 2001: 101), positioning themselves in terms of difference or resistance to popular perceptions of risk rationality, acceptability, and expertise. Such stories justify risk behavior as normal, habitual or acceptable given the particular situations in which it occurred (Rhodes & Cusick 2002: 219). Cultural Stories: Mainstream Social Constructions of Marijuana Effects Mainstream social constructions of marijuana effects have changed dramatically over time. Harry J. Anslinger’s reefer madness campaign of 1930’s, building on anti-immigrant resentment, linked marijuana primarily to mental illness and anti-social behavior. Users were often described as homicidal maniacs. The campaign resulted in marijuana’s federal ban in 1937 and for many years afterward, the picture of cannabis as a killer drug prevailed (Sullum 2003: 199-205). This ‘reefer madness’ cultural story was shadowed by the gateway hypothesis in the 1960’s which claimed that the use of marijuana leads to the use of hard drugs such as heroin. Both the reefer madness and the gateway stories were gradually abandoned when marijuana became a symbol of the counterculture instead of that of certain ethnic minorities. The drug started to be described as a drop-out drug that sapped users’ wills, destroyed their motivation, and turned them into passive, lazy drop-outs from reality and society (Himmelstein 1983: 4). Phenomena of decreased motivation and productivity became central to marijuana’s media picture for the DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
next three decades; this cultural story both provided social grounds for and was fuelled by a rich scientific literature on the amotivational syndrome (Sullum 2003: 106-111). Finally, the gateway hypothesis was revived in the 1980’s and in the 1990’s the threat-to-youth discourse resumed (Leweke 1999: 56). A study of mass media messages can reveal cultural stories about marijuana today. There is a growing body of research on the content of contemporary mass media messages about cannabis use. The content of music videos and lyrics, popular movies, TV shows, news stories, public service announcements, and Leweke (1999: 51) analyzed the content of leading national newspapers, news magazines, television news transcripts and specialized periodicals in the 1992-1997 period on a sample of 503 marijuana stories. He identified five general frames of marijuana both in theoretical literature and empirically, in news coverage of marijuana. Out of those were three “dominant frames” (crime, threat to youth, and public health) and two “oppositional frames” (medicalization and decriminalization). The crime frame typically identified problems related to the illegality of marijuana and its relationship to the law, and its stories talked about marijuana-related crime. The threat to youth frame resonated with the larger cultural pattern of protecting children from evil or from the wrong path. Its stories identified marijuana’s threats to youth in terms of the gateway and amotivational hypotheses. The public health frame positioned marijuana as a dangerous or harmful substance threatening individual and public health, especially in terms of the drug’s clinical effects and harms on the society as a whole. The medicalization frame viewed marijuana as a potential medicine, a solution to various kinds of illness and suffering, such as AIDS wasting syndrome, nausea, or multiple sclerosis. Finally, the decriminalization frame identified problems in terms of threats to individual liberty and other adverse consequences of drug prohibition (Leweke 1999: 54-62, 207). For a decade, the anti-drug public service announcement (PSA) effort has played an ever present active role in the media to stem youth drug use as well as educate parents and youth on the dangers of substance abuse. Contemporary PSA’s appear within the framework of the U.S. National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, were launched in 1998. Some studies focus on media messages’ impact in terms of attitude DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
and/or behavior change, rather than on their content (e.g., Stryker 2003, Hornik et al. 2006, Stephenson 2003, Varshavsky 2003, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education 2001). These are not directly relevant to our analysis because they do not help us reveal how those media messages help construct marijuana effects. Varshavsky (2003) analyzed the campaign’s TV ads qualitatively. She found that one significant pitch of the anti-marijuana campaign was questioning the premise that the drug poses no harm. Their message is: marijuana impairs judgment and irresponsible behavior follows its use. For example, it contributes to motor accidents, or to making “stupid mistakes” with harmful consequences, such as having unprotected sex. Other quantitative studies map out messages about substances generally and/or marijuana specifically. However, these studies do not delve into the meaning of media messages. Some only count the frequency of portrayals of or references to substances in selected media genres, such as music videos (e.g., Hansen & Hansen 2000, Smith 2005, Roberts et al. 2002) or videogames (Haniger & Thompson 2004). Other studies distinguish between pro- and anti-marijuana messages, often in music lyrics (e.g., Markert 2001, Herd 1993, Wood 1999, Krohn & Suazo 1995), or between negative and positive consequences of illicit drug use (e.g., Stern 2001 for teen-centered movies, Christenson et al. 2000 for teen-centered TV shows). Further research counts the occurrences of “risk messages” in PSA’s (Stephenson & Quick 2005), or how frequently PSA’s were embedded within certain television programs (Christenson et al. 2000). Some studies contain typologies of consequences of use as depicted in the mass media, but only for illicit drugs in general. For instance, Slater, Long, & Ford (2006) analyzed television news segments, newspaper articles, and magazine articles for mentions of substance use. They found that a major part of news depictions of consequences of use fell under violent crime, injuries, or motor vehicle incidents. In an analysis of popular movie rentals and music lyrics, Roberts et al. (1999) reported that acute effects, the ways drug use alters a character’s mental state (such as loss of the ability to think clearly) or effects on the physical health were often depicted among the consequences of illicit drug use. Stress reduction, mood DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
improvement, “mental avoidance of troubles”, self-image improvement, and peer pressure were depicted Resisting the Mainstream Narrative: Social Constructions of Marijuana Effects in Collective Stories Pro-marijuana groups often offer alternative information concerning drugs, drug usage, and drug users that takes a different point of view from those contained in the “hegemonic” drug communication disseminated by the government, anti-drug groups, and mainstream media organizations. One of the main premises that distinguish the point of view of these pro-marijuana groups is that cannabis can be used responsibly or abused in the same manner that legal drugs can be (Jenks 1995). Many “user-friendly” messages about marijuana are available on the World Wide Web. A popular website of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML 2007) features five “principles of responsible cannabis use”. The principles say: (1) adults only, (2) no driving, (3) set and setting, (4) resist abuse, and (5) respect rights of others. Of particular relevance to the perception of effects of marijuana on work- related performance may be the third (“the responsible cannabis consumer will be vigilant as to conditions—time, place, mood, etc.—and does not hesitate to say ‘no’ when those conditions are not conducive to a safe, pleasant and/or productive experience”) and fourth principles (“responsible” cannabis users “resist” abuse of cannabis, that is use “to the extent that it impairs health, personal development or achievement”). As we can see, NORML’s language illustrates the point of Jenks (1995) in that it places emphasis on marijuana users’ agency and challenges them to take control over their use and over its possible detrimental effects on their personal goals and responsibilities. Ethnographic research has provided valuable insights into the interpretations of drug users, including the collective stories of controlled marijuana use. Twenty years ago, Zinberg (1984: 137) wrote that cannabis users interviewed by his research team described the drug as “easily controlled, and difficult though not impossible to abuse.” Cannabis use appeared to be governed by “effective social sanctions”, such as using the drug socially only, no intoxication at/before work or at school, or avoiding use in certain unfavorable mental states. Many users also maintained use rituals, i.e. chose a special place, a particular DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
time, and a particular activity during which their use occurred (ibid: 137-143). Recent ethnographic contributions supported the Zinberg’s latter point by describing cannabis smoking as an inherently social activity, bound by conduct norms, etiquettes, and rituals that serve to prevent drug-related harm or discourage excessive consumption and/or compulsive use patterns (e.g., Cohen and Kaal 2001, Dunlap et al. 2005, Johnson et al. 2005, Dunlap et al. 2006, Ream et al. 2008). This paper analyzed ethnographic data on marijuana-work relationship, extracted from 92 semi-structured interviews with marijuana users in New York City. Data was collected during a five-year ethnography entitled Marijuana/Blunts: Use, Subcultures and Markets. Respondents were followed over the 5-year period of investigation (2002-2007). All interviews were tape recorded. Ethnographers first spent time developing a deep level of rapport with informants. They learned that the ethnographer was interested in learning about their world of marijuana consumption and was not the police or an undercover agent. Thus, they were more likely to give honest responses to questions and inquiries. Subjects were chosen to represent the varied experiences of marijuana users of varied age, race/ethnicity, gender, and class/neighborhood. Individuals were sought who identified with the different subcultures, who were raised and hung out in different locations, and who were from various ethnic backgrounds in order to diversify the ethnographic sample. In order to gain access to the various groups of marijuana consumers, staff hired ethnographers who are demographically diverse (in terms of age, race, and gender). Persons between the ages of 15 and 35 were recruited from uptown and downtown neighborhoods of Manhattan (Harlem, Lower East Side) in New York City. These two general areas constituted suitable neighborhoods to acquire a sample that was ethnically and economically diverse. Harlem is basically African-American and Latino. The larger Lower East Side (East Village and Chinatown) mainly encompasses residents who are White, Latino, and Asian. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
The recruitment process involved participant observation, direct observation, and informants. The latter contacts were extremely important in gaining initial access to parties and other social gatherings where marijuana consumption took place. They were also important in arranging introductions to various persons who were involved with marijuana (see Dunlap & Johnson 1999). Ethnographers recruited marijuana-using informants who were artists, musicians, college and high school students, inner-city youths, skateboarders, graffiti writers, participants in the club and nightlife scene, computer and technical types, drug dealers, basketball players, and various types of young working professionals. Informants were also chosen to include not only different backgrounds, economic categories, ethnic/racial categories and subcultures but also various experiences. Parental consent was obtained for persons under the age of Initially 120 informants were interviewed. From these, 97 marijuana users were chosen as focal informants and were followed ethnographically for 3-4 years. Their demographic characteristics at the baseline interview are shown in Table 1. Males were somewhat more common than females. Ethnicities of informants were quite varied, but relatively balanced, with nearly a sixth being from Asian/Indian backgrounds. Informants were young, with 45% under 21. Almost all were single (never married), and represented a wide range of educational backgrounds; about half were still in high school or college, while about half had competed schooling and were employed in a wide range of positions (see Ream et al Three interview schedules were used: screening schedule, baseline schedule, and follow-up interview schedule. The screening schedule helped ensure the desired diversity of sample. The in-depth baseline interview schedule encompassed the current and past use of marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, and other illegal drugs; social behavior within markets for marijuana and tobacco; and subcultural conduct norms and contexts for marijuana use. The baseline interview schedule also obtained informants’ life histories, including growing up, family life, neighborhood environments and family members’ use of marijuana, DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
other drugs, and alcohol. Present-day issues regarded lifestyle, subcultural influences, sexual behaviors, and potential criminal and violent behaviors. Finally, the follow-up interviews focused on changes in the informant’s life and in their use of marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Informants were asked (among others) the following question: “Since our first interview, do you think your use of marijuana/blunts1 has affected your performance at work/school? If it has, tell me how.” This paper analyzes their answers to that question. We employed a specific social-constructionist approach to analyzing the interview data, in that we framed the interview data within a broader social context of cultural norms and beliefs. The respondent was construed as an active creator of meaning as they reported their marijuana use experiences, but as an actor who may likely “borrow” concepts from cultural stories and collective stories (as described above). In the very process of offering responses in our interview, subjects constructively add to, take away from, modify the wording, and transform the facts and details of experience (Holstein & Gubrium 1997: 117). In interpreting the research interviews, we considered how repondents may have used culturally available resources in constructing their stories (Silverman 2001: 100). Therefore, in analyzing our interview data, we juxtaposed users’ accounts with what Richardson (1990, see above) calls cultural and collective Findings
The marijuana users who informed our ethnography provided very diverse reports about the effects of marijuana on their work and/or school performance. They discussed both positive and negative effects. Some users related active strategies to prevent or reduce negative consequences, while others maintained DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
Activity Accounts, Negative Effects: “Being Tired Is Not Good at Work” and “Know When to Stop Many subjects responded that marijuana did not affect their performance at work/school and explained that the reason for this is that they reserved such use to leisure time and did not use at or before work. They suggested that marijuana intoxication was bad for their work performance but constructed a division between the realms of work and leisure. In their logic, no intoxication at work meant no effects of marijuana use on work performance. This emerged in answers like those of Ronald, Legalos, and Omar: Ronald: Nah, not at all. I don’t do it before I go. I just do it after. [So you only smoke blunts after school?] Legalos: No. [Why not?] I don't smoke when I work. Omar: No, not at all. Because when I have to go into work, I don't smoke until after I get off of work. So, because I don’t want it to be a factor and affect anything I do. [Okay. So, you don't smoke at or before The above accounts suggest that these users avoided smoking at or before work in order to prevent some kind of negative effects of marijuana on their work performance. Such negative effects become more explicit in the accounts of two participants who had recently changed their behavior in order to make their Sincere: It has definitely affected my performance at school from where I would either not do homework at all to just where I’m now. I would rather do homework than smoke now. But work has remained the same. James Smith: I don’t smoke marijuana before I go to work, and I just feel I get more things accomplished during the day and I’m just way more alert. [Did you use to smoke marijuana before you went to work?] Taylor, Trish and others also emphasized marijuana’s “lazy-making” nature, and presented themselves as someone who actively chooses not to smoke before work in order to avoid these negative consequences: DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
Taylor: No but yes. Okay. I think it affects you feel more tired and lazy (…) And being tired is not good at work (…) It's not like I smoke before I go to work where I be high. I know people that do that. I can't do something like that because I’ll get too lazy and laid back. Trish: Not really, because I don’t do it while I’m- that doesn’t mix with me. Only thing I- marijuana might make you want to do housework some more, especially some of my friends. [And what about your job?] You mean at a job? No. I don’t feel so. No, ‘cause it’s a weekend thing (…) Once I tried it when I had to go to work and it was- that was terrible- totally- totally- I hated it. ‘Cause (…) it interferes if you do it. That’s- some people in denial, but if you go doing it working hours, it definitely don’t work. [You tried it once like before you going to work and what happened?] I didn’t like it. I was so glad to get home that day I ain’t know what to do. ‘Cause it’s distracting. It made me sillish, and just wander off. ‘Cause it’s- this is relaxing Bebop: No. [Okay. Why not?] Because I don't smoke ridiculous amounts and I only smoke when I'm done at school or when I can sleep or when I'm done with everything I can do. I'll never smoke in the morning and have to do stuff. That is horrible! [Informant laughs] That is like my worst nightmare. I don’t need it to get me through anything. I need me to get me to unwind from everything. You know what I mean. Tricky: No. Well, no. However, I would say probably know, right now it’s really important to me to be as on the ball [concentrated] as I can be. And I’m not saying that someone can’t be on the ball if they smoke pot, like on a regular basis. But I have limited my substance use in general, whether it’s alcohol, um, like caffeine, pot, anything, just because I’m trying to sleep better, eat better, just be. you know, as motivated and as productive as I can be. The above users appeared to be drawing upon the cultural story of marijuana as an amotivational drug that makes one lazy or less productive. But they constructed a division between work and leisure which, in their minds, separated the relaxing, tranquilizing qualities of marijuana from influencing their performance on the job. They thus told their own story of how they keep their marijuana under control. Our interviewers often wondered if this work/leisure division really worked for marijuana users: was it true that no negative effects on work performance were perceived? In several cases, the interviewers DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
probed possible impacts of leisure smoking on work performance, bringing up elements of the cultural story about marijuana effects such as laziness or paranoia. However, the informants rejected their Suzy Q: No. Well, I mean, it’s not like I smoke on the job or anything; because I don’t. [Okay. How about the ability to get to work, like absences, tardiness, not being able to get up because you’re too tired from smoking?] No. [Or not wanting to go until you get you some weed.] [Informant laughs] [Or you said you don’t smoke before work, anyway, right?] I, sometimes I do; but I’m saying I don’t smoke when I’m at work. Once I leave home, that’s it. You know. [Right. But does it, in any way, like I was saying.] No. [Late.] No. [You’re absent.] No. [You know, you feel like you don’t want to go because you’re not high.] No. [Okay. So, not at all?] No. [Alright. And your actual performance at the job, you’re able to do your duties and do your job without, you know, paranoia or being too high? Or things of that nature?] Yes. Door: [Okay. What about with school, with homework? You get homework?] Yeah. [And so does it affect you in any way? Like you might come home, smoke, don't want to do it, or anything like that?] Um, sometimes I… [Does it make you lazy?] I might come home and smoke and not want to do my work. But very rarely. Usually I’ll come home and I’ll do my work. And then I’ll smoke. Or I’ll smoke while I’m doing my work. [Okay. But as you can see it, you don’t feel that it affects your performance in any way, your work performance or your school performance?] No. Ronald: [So you only smoke blunts after school?] Yep. [Has it affected you in other ways such as you come home, you have homework but you decide to smoke and don’t do your homework. The next day you go to school and you don’t have your assignment. You might not even want to go because you haven’t done it so you might play hooky or something. Or the teacher fusses at you for not doing your homework and things like that. Has it affected you in that way at all?] No. [So you still take care of your homework and assignments even though you smoke after school?] Yeah. Nubble: No. [Why not?] I don't smoke at work. [And you don’t think, like, like you said, you smoke almost daily or nightly and you don’t think, like, it affects you the next day at work?] No. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
In contrast, while confirming that they did not smoke at or before work, others admitted some negative impacts of their leisure smoking on their work performance, such as morning weariness or bad memory: M. Norwood: No. I don’t think that it’s affecting my performance. The only thing I can really comment on is where it gives me some kind of effect is when I try to get up in the morning. Like if I smoke a blunt before I went to bed then it’s going to be a lot harder to get up the next morning. I’ll be more tired and I’m gonna be in like a more sleepy mood when I get to work and therefore it takes me longer to kind of get into Catfish: Um, yeah. I notice when I smoke the night before that I'm definitely slower the next day. Definitely. More lethargic. Well, not, not, a little bit more lethargic; but seriously, sometimes I do feel brain-dead the next day. [And that affects you at work?] Yes, definitely. I don’t remember things as well. Taylor: It’s not like I smoke before I go to work where I be high. I know people that do that. I can’t do something like that because I’ll get too lazy and laid back. But I think sometimes maybe certain things I might not remember might be because of all the weed I be smoking. Now maybe it’s just because of bad Other smokers did not practice the work/leisure division but claimed they could actively shape the use episode, suppressing the negative acute effects of marijuana on their work performance. Packer spoke of this ability to “control the high” when work begins: Packer: No. [Why not?] When I get to my job I know when to stop laughing and stop playing games and go straight to work. [So you can control the high?] Yeah. [So you go to work high?] Yeah but I know how to Neutral Accounts 1: “My Results Are Fine” Some users said they were rather indifferent about the effects of marijuana on their work performance. Two students related that they did not find such effects relevant as long as their results were satisfactory. Their accounts may resonate with the practice of high-school drug testing which renders students DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
Carlos: No. [Explain that.] I’m still in the same grade. I don’t really work right now but in school I’m at my grade average. [So you don’t see any effects in school?] No. Acronym: Absolutely not. [No? You feel that you’ve been able to function.?] My grades have gotten nothing but better. And that’s no thanks to the weed. It’s just it hasn’t affected it in a bad way. Passivity Accounts, Negative Effects: “It Makes Me Spacier” Another group of smokers constructed themselves as both passive recipients of marijuana effects, such as memory damage or the loss of motivation, and passive recipients of losses in work performance; these informants did not talk about any active elements in their use behavior and merely described the harms they suffered. The following two accounts resonate strongly with the mainstream media messages about memory damage due to the use of marijuana: Infamous: Um yeah. I feel slower. You know? Mostly I forget to do some homework till the end. [Yeah.] So you know, that’s why I need a cut down on it. [Yeah, do you think you’re getting slower you mean?] Salt Lick: I think it messed up my memory. I think that my memory has gotten a lot worse, my motivation has gotten worse, yeah. [Memory, motivation.] I think it makes me just spacier. [And what about your performance at school?] Well my memory and my motivation are affected by… affect my performance at school so probably done less reading, retain less information possibly. The language of the following smokers is similar to the cultural narrative about marijuana as a tranquilizing drug which causes the amotivational syndrome: Arlos: Yeah. It has actually gotten me more lazy. Why? It’s because it makes you stress-free and not be concerned of much around, you less aware, you know. Yeah. That is why it just lessens your ability to do Jeff: It makes me lazy, like I don’t wanna go to school because I wanna have fun. It keeps me… it doesn’t keep me focused when I smoke. [Do you think that is a good or bad thing?] Bad thing. [Are you doing anything to change that?] Not much to change it, no. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
Morrie: I think it has affected school a little bit because I would come home and smoke some weed and then I don’t wanna do my homework so I would end up procrastinating and waiting until the very last minute to write a paper and this affected my grade, I think, a little, or at least how I felt about the paper because I know I could have done better if I had more time. I would like wait for one night and write everything. I ended up skimping on some things that I really wouldn’t have. Neutral Accounts 2: “There Is No Work” Or “I Do Not Care About Work” Other smokers also said they were indifferent about the effects of marijuana on their work performance but the reason was their unemployment or low value of work. Roy Earl: Hmm, no. I don’t go to school. I try not to work much. A more appropriate question is has it affected my performance in the sack? [Interviewer laughs] Yeah. No, it’s fine. No, it hasn’t. Mr. X: No. [You don’t go to school, right?] Nah. Well, I try to find jobs with no big responsibility, anyway, Positive Effects: “Brain Food” and Socializing Several informants praised marijuana for its positive impact on their work performance, whether it was in terms of energy, relaxation, or creativity. Javier: [You used to go to work high?] Yeah. Smoke a little couple of drags off a joint, I mean a blunt before I go to work. [In the mornings?] Yeah, in the morning. And it have you a little charged up so you are a little amped up [excited] when you get there so you may work a little faster. The following two informants appear to have actively discounted elements of the cultural narrative about marijuana’s tranquilizing effects, as presented by the interviewer, and told a contrasting story about its Queen Moore: [So, you smoke like two to three puffs before work.] Yes. [And does that have any effect on your performance? Do you get slow? Or some people get paranoid, or they get slow.] No, honestly speaking, I can roll along with my work. Like let’s just say I’m at home, because I don’t smoke on the job. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
But I work from home sometimes. I find I can sit there and concentrate better. [Okay. So, the effect is that you concentrate better.] Right. You know how they say, brain food? [Informant laughs] Omar: [What about your interaction with other things? Like just say in the house. You know, you might be planning on doing a job, and say you smoke.] Oh, it makes me focus. [Okay. You become more focused.] Yeah, it gets me, it gets me like amped [excited] to get up and go and do what I gotta do. [Okay. It affects your performance in that you become more energized, right?] Yeah. More enthused, more focused. [Okay. Because some people say, oh, it makes me lazy; it makes me tired.] Yeah. [I don’t feel like doing nothing. I just want to eat. And once I eat, I just want to sit down.] [Informant laughs] [It doesn’t affect you like that?] I mean, sometimes. But usually it just has me focused. Like if I have to do something, like after I smoke, The following two accounts of students who use marijuana to enhance their creativity suggest that some smokers presented themselves as actively shaping marijuana’s effects during a use episode at work: Trout: Um I don’t think so. (…) I think maybe in school it even like helps like sometimes I have I’m kind of like relaxed enough to like let ideas come out and I think about them too much when I’m not stoned sometimes. So I think it could have helped in certain ways like being creative. Curious: And sometimes I like to use it with school, like with ideas. Like say I’m writing a large paper, or something. You know, I’ll be thinking about the paper days beforehand. And maybe I’ll smoke some weed and think about it, just to give me some ideas. [Would you say you’ve adapted to it?] Yeah. It’s not a problem. As long as I don’t smoke every day, so I have time to get like done what needs to get done, it’s Finally, Bird accounted for using marijuana socially to enhance his productivity: Bird: If anything, it’s, um, helped. [In what way?] Relations. Relations with my employers. It’s like, um, it’s like you could build business by having a cigarette outside with somebody. You know, business is built sometimes over smoking a blunt. [Interviewer laughs] Is that wrong? DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
Theoretical works and empirical research constitute two sources of information on existing cultural and collective stories about marijuana effects. Theoretical works tell us that prevalent depictions of marijuana effects are those of an amotivational, drop-out drug, with gateway effects. Empirical research into the content of contemporary mass media messages about marijuana informs us that messages within the public health and threat-to-youth frames depict various detrimental effects of marijuana to the health, including the amotivational syndrome, and the impairment of judgment. At the same time, alternative media emphasize the “responsible use” of marijuana, as a way to avoid these detrimental effects. Our ethnography has found that New York City users’ accounts about marijuana effects on work performance often resonate with the dominant cultural stories. Yet we also listened to other voices which negated those cultural stories with accounts of marijuana’s positive effects or reframed the issue in terms of users’ individual responsibility and informal social controls regulating marijuana use. In reviewing what informants told us about the relationship between their marijuana smoking and their work or school performance, we apply two main dimensions of analysis: relationship evaluation and user agency. The following table shows that the relationship between marijuana and work performance was evaluated positively, negatively, or neutrally in users’ accounts. Positive evaluations included marijuana’s energizing effects, its role in concentration or creativity, relaxation, and stress relief. Negative evaluations were mostly concerned with weariness, lack of motivation, and memory damage. Neutral accounts were of those who said that the effects of marijuana on their work performance were insignificant, either because their performance was satisfactory or because they did not place a high value on work. Users’ roles became significant when marijuana’s effects were depicted as (potentially) harmful. Those who talked about their active role often said they did not smoke at or before work in order to avoid negative consequences, while “passive” users often talked about negative effects such as procrastination or memory damage without doing anything to alleviate them. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
In conclusion, while some marijuana smokers report cultural stories about the pathological consequences and irresponsibility of marijuana use, others draw upon their own collective stories, emphasizing their own agency and constructing their drug use and related harm to work and school performance as controlled. Most informants (except Infamous, Roy Earl, and Mr. X) appear to draw from collective paradigms, in that they intentionally do not use before or at work/school. They imply that they are “responsible” users (NORML 2007) who generally limit their consumption to private locations, as a leisure activity, and claim that intoxication does not interfere with their work/school roles. As an example, Figure 1 shows how a cultural story of marijuana’s tranquillizing effects is reproduced in a passive, less responsible user's account (Infamous), while it is transformed into a controlled, responsible Discussion
Ethnographic research helps to understand the social constructions of marijuana effects as well as how informal social controls function. Informant accounts appear to draw from both cultural and collective stories in almost the same sentence or time. By identifying how the marijuana high makes one lazy or less effective, informants are drawing from the cultural/scientific paradigm of the amotivational syndrome. But many informants report that they do not use before or during school/work, or that their marijuana use does not affect their role performance; in doing so, they are drawing from the collective paradigm that marijuana users can be “responsible” and productive members of society who are harming no one else. None of the informants cited here have a clear intention to desist from their marijuana use, or even to significantly reduce such use—as they consider it responsible and enjoyable. Most prior research does not address the duality of such patterned behavior. Most existing media content analyses are quantitative in nature and thus do not reveal what exactly the different media stories tell us about marijuana effects. More qualitative content analyses of both DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
mainstream and subcultural media are thus necessary to better understand how the various messages about marijuana are heard, incorporated into consumer thinking, and promote behavior that limits the potential for severe cannabis dependence and/or other possible harms associated with marijuana use. This analysis demonstrates that user accounts of marijuana effects contain a mix of both the mainstream cultural stories and moderately subversive collective stories. Therefore, only through better research of both cultural and collective stories can we better understand the broader social conditions by which user constructions of marijuana effects emerge. Addiction research has been influenced by the dominant view that all illicit drug (and marijuana) use is bad and inevitably harmful. Consequently, many studies of drug consumption have placed their emphasis upon determining the potentially harmful effects of illicit drugs (Zinberg and Harding 1982: 13). The reasons for this pathological frame of research are both scientific (above all, expanding the knowledge base for treatment efforts) and moral (disapproving of illicit drug use). From another perspective, such research efforts have failed to focus upon those users (except that they clearly constitute a majority of marijuana users) who do not experience harmful consequences of use—controlled users. We believe that the abundant pathological picture of marijuana, provided by the research on marijuana abuse and dependence, could be valuably complemented with research on controlled, responsible use patterns. Further investigation should focus on better understanding what the controlled, responsible patterns of marijuana use that emerge in collective stories really are, how they develop, and how they are 1. In order to make a blunt, a user takes a low-cost cigar – typically a Dutch master or Phillies Blunt – splits it open, removes the tobacco filler, fills the shell with marijuana, and reseals the shell (cf. Ream et al. 2006; Sifaneck et al. 2005). Note: Every subject DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
Acknowledgements: Preparation of this paper was supported by a grant from the National Institute on
Drug Abuse (1R01 DA/CA13690-05), and by National Development and Research Institutes. From June 2006 through August 2007, the first author was supported by a Fulbright Fellowship and participated as a predoctoral fellow in the Behavioral Sciences Training in Drug Abuse Research program sponsored by Medical and Health Association of New York City, Inc. (MHRA) [renamed Public Health Solutions in 2008] and the National Development and Research Institutes (NDRI) with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (5T32 DA07233-23). Points of view, opinions, and conclusions in this paper do not necessarily represent the official position of the U.S. Government, Public Health Solutions, or National Development and Research Institutes. The authors acknowledge with appreciation the contributions of Flutura Bardhi, Stephen Sifaneck, Doris Randolph, Geoffrey Ream, James Hom, Annette Dunlap, and Yesinia Moran to this research. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
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Table 1: Demographic Characteristics among NYC Marijuana Users Ethnographic Data Set (n=97) Table 2: Relationship evaluation and user agency in users’ accounts of relationship between marijuana Marijuana’s relationship with work performance was evaluated. DRAFT: Please do not quote or cite without permission of authors
Figure 1: Do marijuana’s negative effects translate into pathological consequences? homework till the end. [Yeah.] So you know, that’s why I need a cut you’re getting slower you mean?] Taylor: I think it affects you feel (…) It's not like I smoke before I know people that do that. I can't do something like that because I'll get too lazy and laid back.


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