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Troubled Boys Will Abandon Pot When It's Deemed Uncool

TUESDAY March 4, 2008 -- When it comes to smoking pot, trouble-prone boys are more likely to give up the habit if it isn't considered cool, but trouble-prone girls will keep toking no matter what, new research shows.

The findings will give prevention researchers more insight into how teens react to the wider world's embrace of illegal drugs, said study author Michelle Little, a postdoctoral fellow at Arizona State University. At least when it comes to the most trouble-prone boys, "our data would suggest that's not such a bad idea to do a wide, broad approach that will reduce social acceptance [of drugs] among youth," she said.

Girls, meanwhile, aren't a "lost cause," she stressed, because prevention approaches can be designed to reach them, too.

At issue are what researchers call "deviance-prone" teens -- those most likely to take major risks, avoid school and get into trouble with the law. Little and colleagues wanted to know if these teens stubbornly kept smoking pot no matter what the rest of society did, or if they were susceptible to national trends.

The researchers examined federal surveys of 44,751 white 12th-grade teens taken between 1979 and 2004. Minorities were not included because of a lack of numbers.

The findings were published in the March issue of Prevention Science.

Over the 26 years tracked by the study, marijuana use among teens varied greatly, according to other research. Recent pot use among 12th graders reached a peak of 51 percent in 1979, falling to 22 percent in 1992 and rising to 34 percent in 2004.

The researchers found that deviance-prone boys were less likely to smoke when teens as a whole cut down on pot use. In general, deviance-prone girls in general weren't touched by such trends.

"Girls who are willing to take risks and get in trouble are just as likely to be involved in marijuana use, irregardless of the prevailing prevalence," Little said.

The study doesn't speculate about whether the teens who stopped smoking pot turned to other drugs. It also doesn't examine the gender differences in how teens reacted to drug-use trends.

Steven Shoptaw, a licensed psychologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the study relies on some of the best available statistics, but one weakness is that it looks at averages across the country. "Think of averaging wind speeds across the country to develop an average wind speed for the U.S." said Shoptaw, who studies drug use. "While the U.S. average wind speed tells you something, you don't really know what it tells you, and you certainly can't rely on the measure to understand what is happening in specific areas of the country."

As for the differences between boys and girls in terms of intractable pot use in the face of societal trends, he said they have little meaning, because boys are more likely to engage in socially deviant behaviors like pot smoking.

More information

There's more for teens about pot use from the National Institutes of Health.

Posted: March 2008


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