Part of the debate on recreational marijuana legalization is about harm – specifically to those that use it. Only 16% of Americans believe it’s very harmful to its users, but we can understand those results in the context of other substances – and within the context of the regulations that govern them.
Dig Insights polled a representative sample of 1,318 Americans on how harmful 17 substances are considered to be.
To help visualize the results, we used network maps.
- These show correlations: a statistical measure that indicates the extent to which two or more variables fluctuate together.
- Two items that are closer together and connected by a line are considered more similar. The wider the line, the higher the correlation.
- The size of the nodes, i.e. circles, represents the percentage of Americans who rated the substance as very harmful. The bigger the node, the more Americans who think its very harmful.
Marijuana stands alone, but it’s most similar to Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Looking at the network map, we can identify a few things.
- The node for marijuana is quite small as only 16% of Americans think Marijuana is very harmful.
- This compares to large nodes for Heroin, Methamphetamine, and Crack Cocaine where over 93% believe each are very harmful.
- There are extremely thick lines between Crack Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Heroin. This means that perceptions of these drugs are linked. If someone thinks Heroin is very harmful, they are likely to think Crack Cocaine is very harmful.
- On the other hand, Marijuana’s closest substances are Psilocybin and Salvia, but the lines are thin (or non-existent). This means there is a weak correlation. If someone believes Marijuana is harmful, then they would be somewhat likely to think that Psyolicbyin is harmful.
Government regulation and public perception don’t match
In general, the perceptions of Marijuana appear ill-aligned with the Controlled Substances Act. Despite being legalized in 8 states, Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. The small size of the node and its distance from the cluster of Schedule I and II substances suggests that Americans don’t view marijuana as they do these other substances.
Both Schedule I and II substances are classified as having “high potential for abuse”, but Schedule I substances have “no currently accepted medical use” – one key differentiating factor.
For many Americans, Marijuana has been parsed out of the mental list of very harmful substances. On average, it’s viewed less negatively than saturated fat and processed sugar. With support for marijuana legalization continues to rise, the Controlled Substances Act, introduced in 1970 by Richard Nixon, will continue to look increasingly out of date.