Cannabis ideology: A study of opinions and beliefs centering around cannabis consumption


Findings and discussion I


Author: M.I. SOUEIF,
Pages: 33 to 38
Creation Date: 1973/01/01

Cannabis ideology: A study of opinions and beliefs centering around cannabis consumption

Ph.D., M.I. SOUEIF, Professor of Psychology,Cairo,Arab Republic of Egypt.


The present study is part of a bigger project which has been under way at the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research, Cairo, since October 1957. A series of "research in progress reports" have already been published, in which we released information on constructing a standardized interviewing schedule, establishing its reliability and validity (Committee 1960; Soueif 1967) and administering it to groups of cannabis takers and non-takers within the framework of pilot investigation (Committee 1964; Soueif 1967). Recently we reported briefly on the results of the main study which was carried out on 850 cannabis consumers and 839 controls, and in which the interview was used together with a number of psychological tests of performance (Soueif 1971, 1972).

In this paper we present the outcome of analysis of data collected in the course of our main study concerning what we may name "the cannabis ideology". By cannabis ideology we mean the set of beliefs thought to guide and justify takers' (and non-takers') conduct towards drug related issues. The following definition of beliefs serves our purpose: "A belief is an enduring organization of perceptions and cognitions about some aspect of the individual's world. A belief is a pattern of meanings of a thing; it is the totality of the individual's cognition about the thing. The term belief (may be) used in a generic sense to include knowledge, opinions and faith." (Krech & Crutchfield, 1948, p. 151). Because defining a man's beliefs and attitudes toward certain aspects of his own social world will yield highly reliable predictions about his behaviour in this respect (op. cit.) we contend that the information revealed through the present investigation should be relevant to the way policy makers formulate their decisions as to how drug behaviour could be regulated.


A number of questions were administered by well trained interviewers to cannabis takers and controls as well. The questions were all tapping the subjects' drug ideology and had reasonable test-retest reliabilities (with 7 to 15 days elapsing between test and retest). The following table provides the questions together with their estimated reliabilities.

Subjects included 850 chronic takers and 839 controls. The takers were all males, ranging in age between 15 and slightly above 50 years (averaging 39 ± 10.5). 60.6 per cent were illiterate and the rest distributed among various levels of pre-university education. Our users were all prison inmates who were convicted expressly for using cannabis. The controls were selected from the same prisons but they were convicted for other offences and not drug use. They were all males within the age range of 15 to slightly over 50 years (average 33.1 ± 9.75). 54.8 per cent were illiterate and the rest had various periods of schooling. The control group included nine subjects with university degrees.

Questions tapping "cannabis ideology" together with their estimated reliabilities


Test-retest reliabilities


Takers N = 45

Controls N = 45

1. Do you think cannabis consumption is prohibited by religion, or advised against or neither prohibited nor advised against? Prohibited ( ); Advised against ( ); Neither prohibited nor advised against ( )
.75 contingency
.73 contingency
(To those who do not opt for "prohibited" administer the following question:)
2. Was this belief among the factors that encouraged you to take cannabis? Yes ( ); No ( )
.75 phi
- *
3. Do you think cannabis users tend more than others to commit crimes? Yes ( ); No ( )
88% agreement
.61 phi
(Those who answer "yes" should be given the following question:)
4. Do they actually commit crimes more frequently than others? Yes ( ); No ( )
.90 phi
5. After the recent increase in the severity of the penalties have been passed do you think there is more taking of the drug ( ) Or less taking ( ); Or is there no change ( )?
.64 contingency
.68 contingency
6. What do you think of this penalty (life imprisonment for any person who provides a place for drug use)? Do you think it should, remain as it is ( ); Be abolished ( ); Reduced ( ); Or modified in some other way ( )?
.72 contingency
7. According to the law users who volunteer for treatment would not be prosecuted. What do you think of this regulation?
73 % agreement
8. Capital punishment is a penalty which could be inflicted on narcotics traffickers under certain conditions. What do you think of that? Do you think the law should remain as it is ( ); Should be abolished ( ); Reduced ( ); Or modi- fied in some other way ( )?
.80 contingency
9. Supposing you had a son and you got to know that he was taking hashish, would you consent ( ); Object ( ); Or do not bother ( )?
.81 contingency
.97 contingency
10. Supposing you have a daughter or a sister, would you agree to her marrying a man whom you knew to take hashish? Yes ( ); No ( )
.82 phi
91% agreement

For accidental reasons some estimates of reliabilities are not available.

Findings and discussion I

We found highly significant differences between takers and non-takers regarding the way each group related cannabis (or hashish) * to religion and to crime. Among the takers 12.3 per cent only said they believed hashish use was prohibited by religious teaching (mostly Islamic; cf. Dixon 1972), therefore it was a sin, 61.4 per cent maintained that it was only a minor misdeed and 26.3 per cent held it was neither a sin nor a misdeed. These results were contrasted with the following percentages among controls: 35.8, 57.4 and 6.8 respectively. The outcome of the chi square computed here (147.719, 2 d.f.) is mostly accounted for by the belief that hashish use is (or is not) a sin.

An attempt was made to clarify the role of such beliefs adopted by the majority of our takers, in facilitating their positive approach towards the drug. The question was posed, to those who held that the habit was only a misdeed or neither a sin nor a misdeed (N=706) whether this belief, was one of the factors that encouraged them to take to the habit. 75.5 per cent answered in the affirmative. The departure of such a result from a hypothetical ratio of 50:50 is so wide (x 2 = 183.568) that it certainly underlines a psychological fact, which has to be taken into account in any attempt to reckon facilitating factors in our domain of inquiry.

An interesting discrepancy was disclosed in the attitude of our takers and that of the controls regarding the relationship between cannabis consumption and crime. No more than 6 per cent of the users, contrasted with 61 per cent of the non-users took it for granted that hashish takers had criminal tendencies. A more interesting fact is that 95.9 per cent of those controls who assumed the existence of such tendencies were convinced that the users did actually commit crimes. This was contrasted with 41 hashish users (constituting 78.8 per cent of the 6 per cent already mentioned) adopting the same view.

Obviously, therefore, cannabis takers, on one hand, tended to see no intrinsic conflict between their habit of drug use and religious faith, and no inherent relationship between such habit and criminal tendencies and/or behaviour. Controls, on the other hand, strongly believed in the opposite.


An attempt was made to gain insight into the attitudes which might affect our takers as socializers of a new generation (viz. their children). We raised a question about their possible reactions if they had sons and came to know that those sons were starting on cannabis. 90.5 per cent of the takers vs. 87.9 per cent of the non-takers said they would certainly object. Moreover 5.2 per cent of the former group vs. 11.4 per cent of the latter stated that they would give their consent. The rest said that such information would not bother them in the least. This item differentiated between the groups at a high level of significance (x 2 = 40.261, 2 d.f.).

We posed another question about our subjects' possible reactions to the prospect of their daughters or sisters marrying men whom they knew to be hashish users. 72.2 per cent of the takers vs. 96.5 per cent of the controls said they would object to the marriage. The discrepancy is highly significant.

* The two words may be used interchangeably in this paper.

From the point of view of the Establishment, therefore, cannabis users seem to be better than controls as socializers of their own sons. But when it comes to the marriage of daughters and sisters, non-takers adopt a definitely anti-cannabis standpoint.


A number of questions were put to our interviewees, as to the law governing the possession of cannabis for intake and/or distribution. First, they were asked what they thought the reaction was towards adding to the penalties against hashish use (which gradually took place during a period of seven years preceding the administration of the interview). The answers we obtained reflected highly significant differences between users and controls. Whereas the former tended to emphasize the futility of highly severe laws and that they only succeeded in arousing a spirit of challenge, the latter were inclined to underline their effectiveness. Thus 62.7 per cent of the users vs. 30.1 per cent of the non-users claimed that definitely cannabis consumption rose as a reaction to the change of law, whereas 19.1 per cent of the takers vs. 43.7 per cent of the non-takers said that it went down. The rest of the subjects maintained that it was not affected (X 2 = 135.869, 2 d.f.).

A second question aimed at eliciting their opinion concerning the legal sanctions enforced in cases of consumption. Again disparity between takers and non-takers came out highly significantly. While 9.9 per cent of the users said that sanctions should stay as they were, 41.5 per cent of controls presented the same. Moreover, 41.7 per cent of the former respondents in contrast with 7.7 per cent of the latter maintained that such sanctions should be abolished. However, the proportions defending a policy of premissiveness either by suggesting lessening the severity of existing penalties or any other way of changing the present regulations were almost equal in our two groups. Nevertheless chi square came out to be 265.736 (3 d.f.).

We were interested in exploring the attitudes of those interviewees who recommended that severe legal sanctions should stay as they were. Almost all of them said such harsh punishment should be an effective deterrant. Paradoxically enough this was expressed by some fifty hashish users.

When asked what they thought of the fact that according to the law cannabis users would not be prosecuted who volunteered for treatment at the psychiatric clinics opened especially for receiving such cases, our users gave the following comments: 80.4 per cent held that this was a step forward in the right direction, 4.9 per cent had vague doubts about the effectiveness of such a step, 3.7 per cent said that it was futile because there were not enough clinics of that kind, 4.6 per cent contended that it was an unwarranted step anyway because one could stop taking cannabis without any need for such help. The rest gave unclassifiable answers. No significant difference were found on this issue between takers and non-takers (X [ 2] = 3.323, 1 d.f.).

Not unexpectedly users expressed more tolerance than non-users towards hashish traffickers and pushers. Thus 29 per cent of the former vs. 49.4 per cent of the latter expressed consent to the highly severe penalties inflicted on traders, and 36 per cent vs. 8.6 per cent respectively argued that it should be abolished. The rest of the two groups recommended reducing the severity of the penalties or introducing certain modifications which they considered more reasonable. The difference between the two groups was highly significant (X [ 2] = 197.324, 3 d.f.).

Again a majority of those interviewees who expressed content with the strictness of the existing law revealed one and the same philosophy, that it should be an effective deterrant.


Finally our subjects were requested to suggest what they considered to be realistic and acceptable solutions to the problem of cannabis consumption. The answers supplied by takers fell into 6 categories: 43.8 per cent recommended more serious measures against illicit importing and trafficking; 27.7 per cent suggested making the drug available under government control; 8 per cent proposed the opening of numerous clinics for the treatment of users; 7.1 per cent suggested hightening the severity of penalties against consumption; 3.9 per cent preached for raising the standard of living and 1.4 per cent opted for more educative propaganda against cannabis use. The rest gave unclassifiable answers. The respective proportions among controls were as follows: 48, 10.6, 4.1, 26.1, 2.1 per cent and 1.1 per cent. The discrepancy between the two groups of respondents was highly significant.(x 2 = 156.034, 5 d.f.).

To summarize sections III and IV, two reliably different sets of opinions about the existing law, restricting the handling of cannabis, are adopted by users and non-users. First, cannabis takers tended to believe in the futility of a policy of increasing the severity of legal sanctions every few years. Non-users, on the contrary, believed in its effectiveness. Secondly, consumers were, by and large, against the harshness of the law the way it dealt with consumption as well as with distribution. Thirdly, hashish takers suggested a policy that should be based on a therapeutic attitude towards drug taking, but non-takers were rather for a punitive line of action.


A basic assumption is that educationalists, therapists, legislators and all members of the social institutions concerned with behaviour modification in the area of drug dependence need to know some reliable information on a number of views and values which govern the users' conduct towards drug related issues. Presumably such information helps better planning for more effective action.

Of particular importance among our findings are the following:

  1. That cannabis takers do not see themselves in the same light as they are seen by controls (from whom decision makers are supposedly recruited) as far as religious values and criminal behaviour are concerned.

  2. That cannabis takers seem to be more concerned than non-takers are to steer their children away from drug taking.

  3. That a sizeable percentage of the takers recommended more serious measures against illicit importing and trafficking, and a large majority considered providing facilities for users to volunteer for treatment a step in the right direction.

Further research is needed to throw light on the area of beliefs and attitudes adopted by cannabis takers. But without the use of standardized tools explicitly ascertained for reliability and validity a good deal of effort and finance would be wasted.



Committee for the Investigation of Hashish Consumption in Egypt , Hashish consumption in Egypt; research in progress; Report I: The interviewing schedule: construction, reliability and validity . Cairo: Publications of the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research, 1960 (in Arabic).


Committee for the Investigation of Hashish Consumption in Egypt, Hashish consumption in Egypt; research in progress; Report II: Hashish users in Cairo City: A pilot study.


Cairo: Publications of the National Centre for Social and Criminological Research 1964 (in Arabic).


Dixon W. H. Narcotics legislation and Islam in Egypt, Bulletin on Narcotics , XXIV, 4, pp. 11-18.


Krech, D. and Crutchfield R. S. Theory and problems of social psychology , New York McGraw-Hill, 1948.


Soueif, M. I. Hashish consumption in Egypt with special reference to psychosocial problems, Bulletin on Narcotics , XIX, 2, pp. 1-12.


Soueif, M. I. The use of cannabis in Egypt: A behavioural study, Bulletin on Narcotics , XXIII, 4, pp. 17-28.


Soueif M. I. The social psychology of cannabis consumption: myth, mystery and fact Bulletin on Narcotics , XXIV, 2, pp. 1-10.