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SMAD. Revista eletrônica saúde mental álcool e drogas

On-line version ISSN 1806-6976

SMAD, Rev. Eletrônica Saúde Mental Álcool Drog. (Ed. port.) vol.12 no.1 Ribeirão Preto Mar. 2016 



Factors associated with opinions in favor of (or against) legalizing marihuana in a sample of university lecturers and students1


Factores asociados a la opinión favorable (o contraria) a la liberación de la marihuana en una muestra de docentes y discentes universitarios



Camila Aparecida Pinheiro Landim-AlmeidaII; Henrique Galeno Patrício RodriguesIII; Juliana Macêdo MagalhãesIV; Márcia Astrês FernandesV

IIPhD, Professor, Centro Universitário UNINOVAFAPI, Teresina, PI, Brazil
IIIStudent of Specialization course in Palliative Care, Instituto Israelita de Ensino e Pesquisa Albert Einstein, São Paulo, SP, Brazil
IVMSc, Professor, Centro Universitário UNINOVAFAPI, Teresina, PI, Brazil
VPhD, Adjunct Professor, Universidade Federal do Piauí, Teresina, PI, Brazil




The objective was to discover factors associated with opinions in favor of (or against) legalizing marihuana in a sample of university lecturers and students. This was a cross-sectional exploratory-descriptive study with a quantitative approach, of 288 undergraduate lecturers and students in Nursing and Law in a private higher education institution in Teresina, PI. The data were collected in 2014 using a self-applied questionnaire and analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences program. The main results show that the majority were female, with a mean age of 25 years, single, Catholic and approximately 75% were against legalizing marihuana. It was concluded that, in Brazil, there is a lack of research on the topic of legalizing marihuana, especially concerning the views of lecturers and students in higher education.

Descriptors: Faculty; Students; Universities; Cannabis.


Se objetivó conocer factores asociados a la opinión favorable (O contraria) a la liberación de la marihuana, en una muestra de docentes y discentes universitarios. Estudio exploratorio, descriptivo y transversal, con abordaje cuantitativo, con 288 docentes y discentes de los cursos de graduación en Enfermería y Derecho de una institución de enseñanza superiora privada, en Teresina, PI. Los datos fueron colectados por medio de cuestionario autoaplicable, en 2014, y analizados en el programa estadístico Statistical Package for Social Sciences. Los principales resultados revelaron que la mayoría era del sexo femenino, media de 25 años, solteros, católicos y aproximadamente 70% se mostraron contrarios a la liberación de la marihuana. Se concluye que hay carencia de investigaciones sobre el tema de la liberación de la marihuana en Brasil, principalmente con relación a la visión de docentes y discentes de nivel superior.

Descriptores: Docentes; Estudiantes; Universidades; Cannabis.




Global consumption of psychoactive substances is increasing alarmingly (1). Drug abuse and addiction threatens the political, economic and social society as it contributes to increased health care costs and higher rates of traffic accidents, urban violence and premature death (2).

According to a 2013 UN Annual Report on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), illegal drugs, such as marihuana, are proliferating at unheard of levels, creating challenges for public health (3).

Marihuana, known scientifically as cannabis, is the most cultivated, trafficked and consumed illegal drug in the world. Originating in Central Asia, it was recorded as early as 2723 AD, when it was mentioned in a Chinese Pharmacopeia. It gradually spread to India and the Middle East, arriving in Europe only in the late 18th and early 19th century, passing through North Africa and reaching America (4).

Cannabis continues to be the most used illegal substance in the world. While use among European youth has clearly declines over the last decade, there has been a small increase in the prevalence of cannabis users (180 million, or 3.9% of the population aged between 15 and 64), compared with previous estimates from 2009(3).

According to the 2nd Brazilian Household Survey on Psychotropic Drug Use, in 2005, marihuana use, throughout life, holds first place among the most commonly used illegal drugs, with an increase of 1.9% compared with 2001 (5-6). Use is lower in some countries such as the USA (40.2%), the United Kingdom (30.8%), Denmark (24.3%), Spain (22.2%), and Chile (22.4%), and higher in others such as Belgium (5.8%) and Colombia (5.4%)(6).

An international study concluded that it is mainly adolescents and young adults who become involved with illegal drugs (7). In Brazil, the 1st Survey of Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Use in University Students in the 27 Brazilian state capitals showed a prevalence of 31.5% having ever taken illegal drugs and 54% within the last 12 months, with this number being higher in the area of Biological Sciences (62.6%)(8). It has been recognized that university students and professors are worth a specialized focus concerning consumption and knowledge of legalizing drugs, as they are the ones who transmit basic health ideas to the community.

Given the problem, and based on a search for related studies, it was perceived that there is a lack of research into the factors associated with opinions in favor of legalizing marihuana in Brazil, especially in a sample of higher education lecturers and students. Given the significant role played by these professionals in health care and the humanities in forming communities, this study poses the following question: What are the factors associated with opinions in favor of (or against) legalizing marihuana in a sample of university lecturers and students. It is hoped that this may scientifically assist professionals in health care and the humanities on the topic of legalizing marihuana, this being a relevant and complex topic, not often discussed in undergraduate courses.



This was a cross-sectional exploratory-descriptive study with a quantitative approach which took place between August 2013 and June 2014 in a private Higher Education Institute (HEI) in the city of Teresina, in the State of Piauí.

Inclusion criteria for the subjects in the sample of this study were: being a lecturer or student in an undergraduate course in Law or Nursing at the HEI and meeting the estimated sample number, calculated as follows: n = (Z2.0.25.N) / E2.(N – 1) + Z2.0.25. The estimated sample was simple randomized, with replacement, a margin of error below 5%, confidence level of 95% and an additional 30% to cover losses in cases of inconsistency. Thus, the sample was made up of 302 subjects in total, of whom: 164 were undergraduate Law students, 121 from the Nursing course, as well as 6 lecturers from the undergraduate Law course and 11 from the Nursing course.

The data were collected using a self-applied questionnaire containing objective questions on socio-economic and demographic variables, as well as subjective questions on drug use and on legalizing marihuana. Data were obtained between February and April 2014 in the lecture halls of the HEI. Responses were recorded manually on the data collection instrument.

Data were analyzed using the SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences) software version 19.0. A database was created using Microsoft® Office Excel® 2010, for organizing and dual entry, in a validating process. Next, the data were described in tables and figures using numerical proportions, percentages, mean and standard deviation. The variables of age and income were analyzed using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, in order to verify normal distribution. As they followed a trend toward normality, the parametric Student’s t-test was applied to verify difference between means. In the bivariate analysis Pearson’s Chi-squared (c²) was used to verify association between variables. In the multivariate analysis, several variables were re-categorized for better analysis. Multivariate analysis was conducted with variables with values greater than p<0.20 in the bivariate analysis, using binary logistic regression aiming to verify predictor variables associated with being in favor of legalizing marihuana, controlled for possible confounding factors (adjusted RP) through hierarchized analysis. Results were also expressed using the Odds Ratio (OR) and the respective 95% confidence interval (CI95%) and associations were evaluated using the Wald test. For all the analyses, a 5% level of significance was adopted (p≤0.05).

Subjects were included in this study in compliance with the ethical-legal recommendations governing research involving human beings (9). The research project was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Centro Universitário UNINOVAFAPI, following Resolution nº466/12, of the National Health Council - Conselho Nacional de Saúde, CAAE nº24888413.1.0000.5210. The study was also approved by the Dean of Teaching at the Centro Universitário UNINOVAFAPI, as it formed part of an undergraduate Dissertation at that institution’s Nursing course.



Of the total 302 subjects calculated to make up the initial sample, the final sample was composed of 288, giving a response rate of 95.4%, deemed high for cross-sectional studies, conveying consistency and credibility on the results. The motives for the 4.6% losses were incomplete questionnaires or illegible handwriting. 

As for the subjects’ area of knowledge, 41.0% (n=118) were students and 2.1% (n=06) lecturers from the Nursing undergraduate course; 55.2% (n=159) were students and 1.7% (n=05) lecturers from the undergraduate Law course, totaling 43.1% (n=124) from Nursing and 56.9% (n=164) from Law.

The distribution of the sample according to socio-economic and demographic variables showed that the majority of subjects were female (64.2%, n=185), concentrated in the 21 to 30 age group (41.7%, n=120), single (74.3%, n=214), of mixed race (50%, n=144), Catholic (68.1%, n=196), from the state capital, Teresina, (59%, n=170) and with per capita family income below 5 minimum wages (41.1%, n=95 and 90.9%, n=210 respectively), as can be seen in Table 1.

Table 2 shows the prevalence of experimenting with illegal drugs, 10.8% (n=31) among all participants and 12.8% (n=21) among those in the area of Law. However, there was no statistically significant association (p>0.05).

Among those subjects who reported having tried illegal drugs at least once in their life, 71.0% had tried marihuana, 29.9% loló – inhaling ether, 9.7% LSD and cocaine and 12.9% some other type of drug (Figure 1).

As for subjects’ opinions on legalizing marihuana, 29.9% (n=86 and CI95%: 24.3-35.3) were in favor and 70.1% against (n=202 and CI95%: 64.8-75.7).

Table 3, below, shows the results of the raw analysis of opinions on legalizing marihuana according to socio-economic and demographic variables, experimenting with illegal drugs and area of knowledge. It was observed that there was a statistically significant association between being in favor of legalizing marihuana and age group (p=0.002), marital status (p=0.017), religion (p=0.002), having tried illegal drugs (p<0.001) and area of knowledge (p=0.009).

Regarding age group, there was an increase in the odds ration with decreasing age, with being single, not practicing religion and having tried illegal drugs. Regarding Nursing, there was a decrease in the odds ratio with regards being in favor of legalizing marihuana. For the variables sex (p=0.052), skin color (p=0.975), origin (p=0.511), household income (p=0.109), per capita income (p=0.578) and type of link to the HEI, there was no statistically significant association (Table 3).

Table 4 shows the results of the multivariate analysis through logistical regression of the independent factors associated with legalizing marihuana.

At the first level, the 18-21 age group was shown to be 2.60 times more prone to be in favor of legalizing marihuana compared with the <40 age group. Those with no religion increased the chance of being in favor of legalization by 2.5 times compared with those with some type of religion. The second level included variables concerning having tried illegal drugs and are of knowledge, adjusted among themselves and for level 1 variables. The results showed that participants who had used an illegal drug were 5.34 times more likely to be in favor of legalizing marihuana than those who had never tried any, and in the area of nursing chances of being in favor decreased by 46.0% compared with Law (Table 4).



Despite this study’s relevance to public health, the composition of the sample is a significant limitation and should be taken into consideration. The results of those study indicate factors associated with opinions about legalizing marihuana in 95% students and 5% lecturers. Thus, as there were few lecturers included in the sample composition, the results cannot be said to show a sample balanced between university lecturers and students.  

Based on these results, it can be stated that the majority of students were female, in the under 30 age group, of mixed race, Catholic and on an income below 5 minimum wages. These results corroborate several studies analyzing the profile of young Brazilian university students, showing that the majority of them are female, with a mean age of 21, single and of mixed race (10-12).

As regards household income, this study differed from previous ones, as it was undertaken in a private HEI, suggesting a higher socio-economic standard among students and lecturers. Even after government programs established to aid those on low income access higher education in private universities in Brazil, this pattern of higher income persists.

The data from this study corroborate those of a study conducted by the Universidade Federal do Paraná in 2009 into the profile of Brazilian university students, showing that, in general, students from C, D and E socio-economic classes represent 44% of students at federal universities. This percentage climbs to 695 and 52% in the North and Northeast regions, respectively. The study also concludes that, when analyzed according to household income, 41% of families receive at least 3 minimum wages or below, but there are regional disparities. This percentage increases significantly in the North and Northeast, to 50% and 63%, respectively, and drops in the South, Southeast and Mid-West, with 31%, 32% and 33%, respectively (13).

Regarding having tried an illegal drug at least once, there was a prevalence of 10.8%. the 1st National Survey of Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drug Use in University Students showed a prevalence of 31.5% having tried illegal drugs at least once (8).

Of the illegal drugs tried at least once, 71% had tried marihuana, followed by loló – inhaling ether, with 29%. These data are in agreement with a study in which it was concluded that the most commonly used illegal drugs were marihuana (19.7%) and inhalants (17.3%)(14). It was also found that 10.5% of the students used "medicines with the potential for abuse". Of which amphetamines (6.8%) were the most commonly used, followed by tranquilizers (3.2%) and opiates (0.6%). Other studies have also found this trend, with the most commonly used illegal drug being marihuana (14-16).

It should, however, be pointed out that the question used in the questionnaire of this study evaluates reported drug consumption and not consumption itself; results, therefore, care should be taken when interpreting the results. 

It was found that 70% of those surveyed were against legalizing marihuana, a fact in contrast with the quantity of individuals who had used a drug and showing, in part, that being against legalization is not necessarily related to previous drug consumption. When the factors associated with legalizing marihuana are analyzed, it can be seen that, in the first level of analysis, age and religion are independently associated factors.

Individuals aged between 18 and 21 and those with no religion were shown to be more prone to being in favor of legalizing marihuana. These data may also be related to implicit moral codes in older or religious individuals, who often condemn legalization as, by following a religion, they adhere to a set of values and behavior, including prohibition of drug use.

Another aspect of this study was the fact that individuals who have consumed some kind of drug are more likely to be in favor of legalizing marihuana and those from the area of nursing less likely, when compared with the area of Law.

One possible explanation for this may be related to the fact that individuals in the health care area have a more physiological view of large scale consumption than marihuana alone. Another fact that may explain this propensity is that students of Law are more in touch with the legal aspects of the discussion on decriminalizing marihuana than those in the area of health care.

A study coordinated by the Organization of American states (OAS) argues that, in almost every country where marihuana has been legalized to some degree, consumption among young people increased sharply. This was the case in Portugal, Austria, Holland, the United Kingdom and some American states(17).

In Brazil, the Universidade Federal de São Paulo carried out the 2nd National Alcohol and Drug Survey (LENAD) in 149 Brazilian municipalities, using the Marihuana Addiction Dependency Scale, validated for Brazil in 2000(18), revealing that 3.4 million individuals aged between 18 and 59 used marihuana in 2012 and 8 million had tried marihuana at least once, equivalent to 7% of the Brazilian population. Of these, 62% had had contact with the drug before the age of 18 (19). As for legalizing marihuana in Brazil, 75% of interviewees were against it, and only 11% in favor, 9% did not know and 5% did not respond (19-20).

This perspective of being in favor, or not, of legalizing marihuana shows a contrast in opinions between policies to repress drug dealing and consumption and policies of harm reduction, defended by different sections of society, requiring governments to implement  effective measures of protection, prevention and treatment at different levels, accessible to all(21).

Thus, the project of this study was initially developed in order to deal with a complex topic, not often discussed in undergraduate courses, relevant to the experiences of health care professionals and to the community in general. It was found that there are a lack of studies on the factors associated with opinions on marihuana in a sample of university students and lecturers. In this way, in order to contribute to the scientific community’s knowledge, related studies should be conducted.



This study showed that the majority of subjects were female, young and single, of mixed race, Catholic and of whom approximately 70% were against the legalization of marihuana use. However, being in a younger age group and having already tried other drugs were factors associated with greater propensity of being in favor of legalizing marihuana, while those from the Nursing course showed less propensity, compared with those from Law.

The empirical findings reported in this study aid in better understanding the factors associated with opinions on legalizing marihuana in university lecturers and students and the associated socio-economic and demographic factors. However, as this is a sample that is only representative of individuals in a private HEI, the data cannot be extrapolated for all types of universities in the country.



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Received: 18.02.2015
Accepted: 15.07. 2015

Corresponding Author:
Camila Aparecida Pinheiro Landim-Almeida
Centro Universitário UNINOVAFAPI
Rua Vitorino Orthiges Fernandes, 6123
Bairro: Uruguai
CEP: 64057-100, Teresina, PI, Brasil



1Paper extracted from Final Course Assignment "A visão dos docentes e discentes sobre a liberação da maconha" apresentada ao Centro Universitário UNINOVAFAPI, Teresina, PI, Brazil.

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