Cannabis Use and Moral Judgment Among College Students.

Author:Chabrol, Henri

Cannabis use is a major health problem among college students. Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance among college students in Europe and the USA (e.g, Arria et al., 2017; Helmer et al., 2014). Cannabis use among college students is associated with adverse academic and health outcomes (e.g., Arria et al., 2016; Suerken et al., 2016). Regular cannabis use in young adulthood approximately doubles the risks of academic failure, cognitive impairment, psychoses, depression, and anxiety disorders (Hall, 2015; Volkow et al., 2014). Understanding risk factors for cannabis use and dependence is critical to both the assessment of cannabis use and the development of effective interventions for prevention and treatment.

Among risk factors for cannabis use and dependence, psychological variables such as sensation seeking, depressive symptoms, borderline and psychopathic personality traits, which are frequent among adolescents and young adults, are also risk factors for antisocial behaviors, these common risk factors contribute to explain the high co-occurrence of cannabis use and antisocial behavior in adolescents and young adults (e.g., Chabrol & Saint-Martin, 2009; Gervilla et al., 2011; MacArthur et al., 2012; Popovici et al., 2014).

Although delayed moral judgment has been strongly associated with juvenile delinquency (Stams et al., 2006), there are few studies examining the relationship between moral judgment and cannabis use in adolescents and young adults, most of them being limited to the role of cannabis-related moral norms. Conner and McMillan (1999) and McMillan and Conner (2003) found that low scores on a cannabis-related moral norm ("It would be morally wrong for me to use cannabis") were a significant predictor of intentions to use cannabis among college students. Similarly, adolescents who consider the use of cannabis as 'wrong under any circumstance' were less likely to be users than those who considered it 'ok under some or any circumstance' (Amonini & Donovan, 2006). Similarly, Abide et al. (2001) found college students who considered the use of potentially harmful substances (tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs) to be morally wrong (e.g., "Smoking marijuana is wrong, not only because it interferes with a person's judgment, but it also may unfavorably affect others" ) were less likely to use such substances. This study also evaluated the role of maturity of moral judgment: compared to those who were less mature, more mature moral reasoners expressed higher levels of beliefs that drug use was a "morally wrong behavior" and reported less actual drug use. To our knowledge, only one additional study examined the relationship between cannabis use and maturity of moral judgment: Walburg et al. (2014) found that immaturity of moral judgment was associated to cannabis use among high school students. More studies are needed on the relationships between maturity of moral judgment and cannabis use in youth. Moreover, the liberalization of cannabis policy, particularly the legalization of recreational cannabis by several jurisdictions, may influence perceptions of cannabis use which could be seen as a less risky and immoral behavior (e.g., Budney, Sofis, & Borodovsky, 2019; Elder & Greene, 2019), even if the jurisdictions of the country remains prohibitive, such as in France. The examination of socio-moral influences on cannabis use and use disorder among college-aged persons has the potential to identify risk factors that can inform prevention and treatment interventions.

So, the aim of our study was to explore the relationships between moral judgment and cannabis use among college students after controlling for the main psychopathological variables--antisocial behavior, sensation seeking, depressive symptoms, and borderline and psychopathic personality traits--which have been shown to be risk factors for cannabis use and cannabis problematic use in youth (e.g., Chabrol, Duconge, Casas, Roura, & Carey, 2005; Pech orro, Da Silva, Rijo, Goncalves, & Andershed, 2017; Walters, Bulmer, Troiano, Obiaka, & Bonhomme, 2018) and to influence moral judgment (e.g., Gago et al., 2019; Gao et Tang, 2013; Zhang, Kong, & Li, 2017). We also controlled for moral emotions which can be linked to cannabis use and influence moral judgment (e.g., Greene & Haidt, 2002). More specifically, we examined whether the maturity of moral judgment was associated with cannabis use versus non-use in the total sample and whether moral judgment was associated to problematic cannabis use.


Participants and Procedure

The data were collected through an online survey that was distributed to students from different French universities. The link was shared on social networks in groups specifically dedicated to students. Each of the participants had to give their informed consent and confirm their student status. Participants were informed that answers to the questionnaires would remain confidential. No compensation was offered to participate in the study. The objectives of the study were presented to all participants at the beginning of the online questionnaire, specifying that this was a study on personality and behaviors. The participants were provided with the possibility to contact one of the authors (JB) via email for further information or to receive referral. The study followed the guidelines of the Helsinki declaration and ethical issues of the current research were explored at a research meeting. The final sample consisted of 1572 young adults, 488 males (31 %) 1084 females (69%) (Mean age of males = 20.41, SD = 2.06; Mean age of females = 20.25, SD = 1.99; range = 18-28).

With regard to the participants' fields of study, 31% were studying science or engineering, 16% economics, commerce, management or communication, 14% social sciences, 13% medicine or paramedical studies, 8% literature, 4% education or pedagogy, 4% history, geography or political science, 3% law, 2% art or design, 1% philosophy, 1% art history or archeology, and 2% were studying other subjects.

Internet data collection methods, using online completion of self-report questionnaires from self-selected samples, are consistent with findings from traditional methods. Internet samples are as representative of the general population as traditional samples in psychology. The data provided by Internet methods are of at least as good quality as those provided by traditional paper-and-pencil methods (Gosling et al., 2004).


The Cannabis Use Disorder Identification Test-Revised (CUDIT-R; Adamson et al., 2010) was used to assess cannabis use and related problems during the...

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