Shawn Vest

Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Carl Kell, Dale Wicklander, Larry Winn


Access granted to WKU students, faculty and staff only.

After an extensive unsuccessful search for the author, this thesis is considered an orphan work, which may be protected by copyright. The inclusion of this orphan work on TopScholar does not guarantee that that orphan work may be used for any purpose and any use of the orphan work may subject the user to a claim of copyright infringement. The reproduction of this work is made by WKU without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and is made for purposes of preservation and research.

See also WKU Archives - Authorization for Use of Thesis, Special Project & Dissertation

Degree Program

Department of Communication

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This study examines the history of anti-marijuana messages in the United States and the prevalent use of fear in these messages. The author chronologically examines anti-marijuana messages that had been disseminated to the American public through various mediums (films, newspaper stories, books, cartoons, advertisements, pamphlets, and television commercials) between 1937 and 2001. The author’s examination of these messages revealed several separate eras of anti-marijuana messages that utilized different types of threats to dissuade audiences from marijuana use. Additionally, the examination of the messages revealed the dominant use of fear as a primary persuasive tactic employed by the sources of these messages.

The author’s subsequent examination of the research relating to fear as a persuasive tactic failed to provide any applicable and reliable data to support the use of fear to dissuade audiences from using marijuana. In fact, much of the data relating to fear appears to provide very little reliable or valid evidence to support the use of fear in any situation which further emphasizes the lack of valid and reliable data in the area of fear research. The authors also examines the research relating to drug prevention programs and strategies, much of which does not relate directly to the prevention of marijuana. The drug prevention literature suggests that most attempts to prevent the use of drugs have had virtually no effect at actually preventing the use of drugs, this failure is due in part to the difficulty in obtaining valid and reliable data in this area of research. The disparity of reliable and valid data in this field is due in part to flawed research methodologies including the lack of long-term studies and difficulty in determining audience exposure to specific programs/messages. Additionally, the author examines the research concerning marijuana and it’s effects. The research relating to marijuana and it’s effects contradicts many of the claims made in anti-marijuana messages and highlights the lack of reliable and valid data in this field. The author also examines the current statistics relating to marijuana use and marijuana arrests.

The author concludes that anti-marijuana messages have used fear as a primary persuasive tactic and that the use of fear as an effective means of persuasion is unsupported by the current research. Additionally, the threats made in anti-marijuana messages are unsupported by the scientific evidence concerning marijuana’s effects. The author hypothesizes that anti-marijuana messages have failed to dissuade persons from using marijuana and supports this hypothesis with evidence concerning the levels of marijuana use in the United States and by the continuing efforts to dissuade from its use. The author also proposes that anti-marijuana messages may have hampered efforts to dissuade marijuana use by damaging the credibility of these messages with their use of exaggerated and/or false threats. Additionally, the author offers several areas of disparity in this field of research (marijuana/drug prevention) that must be further explored.


Communication | Health Communication | Mass Communication | Public Relations and Advertising | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Influence and Political Communication