Most researchers would agree that use of alcohol and marijuana, particularly by adolescents, must be understood in terms of the social and psychological context in which these drugs are taken. Pharmacologists have concluded that ‘set and setting’ play a decisive role in shaping drug experiences (Jones, 1971a, b; Weil, 1972; Weil, Zinberg & Nelson, 1968). Sociologists have described how effects of these drugs are related to the milieu in which they are used (Becker, 1963; Orcutt, 1972). There can be little question that social and contextual factors influence when these drugs will be taken and how they will be experienced. It is astonishing, then, how little is known about the actual circumstances surrounding their use.
A primary constraint on knowledge about the circumstances surrounding drug use has been methodological. Nearly all attempts at gaining systematic information have relied upon survey methods, despite recognized problems with this approach. Surveys typically gather information from people in settings far removed from the actual contexts of drug use; hence they depend upon people's ability to remember and reconstruct past experiences accurately. Artifacts due to selective forgetting, demand characteristics, and response sets can be substantial (Eichberg, 1975; Goodstadt, Cook & Gruson, 1978; Hochhauser, 1979). This was dramatically illustrated in a study of adult alcoholics in which the experience of intoxication was remembered as exactly opposite from what had been reported at the time (Tamarin, Weiner & Mendelsohn, 1970).