Editor’s note: This article is based on a synthesis of two different papers. Both are dedicated to the French youth and the cannabis: the first presentation occurred during the Addiction Science Congress in Tehran (September 2015) while the second took place at Shahid Beheshti University (Tehran, April, 2016). You can read the introduction here, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
The use of psycho-active substances is the third major risk at teenage time. The “first” cigarette is the gateway to the subsequent poly-drug use. The first smoke appears to be a kind of initiation ritual in order to belong to the group of peers.
When asked about the meaning of smoking cannabis many years ago, the adolescents were usually answering that it was aimed at creating a distance or a detachment from a reality that is perceived by young people, rightly or not, as intrusive, threatening and even anxiogenic. Smoking created, according to them, a kind of buffer zone between this reality and their world. It is said to establish a protection, a way to escape. But escape to what? Could the reality they are trying to flee some of internal psychic representations projected out of them?
Since 2003, 52 per cent of French young people aged 15-25 are smoking cannabis. The use during the year 2014 peaked in the 18-25 years with 34 per cent of males and 23 per cent of young women: an increase compared to the 29 per cent for male and the 17 per cent for female in 2010. The most amazing fact is that the adolescents now smoke no more to reject something but to belong to. Cannabis, as they explained with a very sure argument, is aimed at “inserting themselves into the social group” and strengthening the “sense of belonging”. Some parents are even smoking together with their children during week-end time. “This is a standard, a way of living” said one of my patient, because every day of the week, time, money, thoughts, discussions and behaviours are dedicated to cannabis. Teens explain: the cannabis is like the bottle of good wine that you, grown-up, are sharing during Sunday’s family lunch.
Traditionally, the initiation rite in the “primitive societies” was meaning a symbolic ceremony of passage through the absorption of psychoactive substances to achieve the membership procedure to the group (Van Gennep, 1909). The group of cannabis smokers follows strict rules: “a joint should be treated respectfully” explains one regular smoker. “The one who is in charge of lightening it, named “P1” is regarded with honour”. “Many games could be organised in order to know who will be the next igniter”. “A group of smokers is strongly welded due to many and all kinds of experiences”. The drug is still used as a gateway to another world. But goal has changed: once fled by adolescents, the “reality of the others” has now become the “social group of the same”, the “mold” to live in. It reveals the integration into a blurred normality due to a subterfuge of the standard.
Jean-Luc Vannier is a French psychoanalyst based in Nice (French Riviera), and is full-time lecturer of psychoanalysis at Nice Sophia-Antipolis University, EDHEC Business School, Ipag Business School. He regularly writes for several French magazines and has his own columns. Jean-Luc is an editorial board member of the Psychreg Journal of Psychology. You can follow him on Twitter @jlv06.