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October 27, 2006

Children of the Sixties; behind pot’s appeal to youth...

Analysis of the interviews of California pot applicants I’ve been conducting over the past five years (and, hopefully, soon to be reported in detail) confirms that pot smoking, as a youthful phenomenon, is comparatively recent, one which didn’t begin on a large scale until the mid Sixties, when youthful baby boomers who had fallen under the influence of Fifties "Beat" writers began using it. What happened next (and largely out of sight) was the rapid  expansion of an illegal cottage industry until it had literally saturated most American high schools with marijuana, an event that took several years to become complete  nationally. It was most overt from the start on both coasts, where pot was associated with several events that still resonate powerfully: Monterey Pop, the Haight Ashbury, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, Altamont, psychedelic drugs, Bill Graham’s Winterland & Fillmore East, and the Stonewall riots. In the Seventies came Kent State, the premature drug-related deaths of several Rock icons, and a somewhat muted spill-over of anti-war protests and social unrest from the Sixties.

The tumultuous era ended with Watergate.

From that time forward, those unsettling events, together with considerable assistance from drug war propagandists, have conferred a somewhat unsavory quality on all pot use as youthful, rebellious,  and irresponsible. Most parents, including many who tried it themselves in high school and may still take a furtive toke or two, clearly don’t want their own kids trying it, let alone ever becoming ‘users’ or 'druggies.'  

Demographic confirmation of the early development of today’s illegal pot market is provided by the Sixties survivors among the ranks of medical cannabis applicants (MCA); it was also brought out by matching the dates at which different year-of-birth (YOB) cohorts first tried pot, alcohol and tobacco. The first sizable group to do so were among the first hippies born between 1946 and 1950. They were also the first cohort of applicants able to try  pot during adolescence; a fact establishing the second crucial condition for growth of the modern market: pot had to become available to vulnerable adolescents near the same time as they were trying alcohol and tobacco. Once that happened, the average age at initiation (by MCA) declined progressively until those born since 1976 have been trying it at the same average ages as they try the two legal agents.

The other attribute explaining pot’s appeal to Sixties youth was its ability to blunt the anxiety associated with several syndromes now being diagnosed with increasing frequency by psychiatrists, pediatricians, and specialists in adolescent medicine.  In fact, by the time MTF surveys began, pot was the only illegal agent tried by nearly as many as try alcohol and tobacco and far more than try all others.
The degree to which California’s MCA population reflects the larger illegal market can only be guessed at, but several factors suggest their profiles may be very similar.

In a later installment I’ll suggest psychodynamic mechanisms which 'explain' how cannabis is able to relieve symptoms of insomnia, ADD, and PTSD in many chronic users: it all comes down to the remarkably prompt, durable, and easily titrated anxiolytic properties of cannabinoids;  properties most reliably controlled when they are ingested by inhalation.
Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at October 27, 2006 04:47 AM