Perception vs. Reality: An investigation of the misperceptions concerning the frequency of novel drug use among college students.

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2013


Misperceptions of peer substance use have previously been implicated as significant influences on individual use of both alcohol and illicit drugs. However, research on perceived social norms and related interventions are typically limited to binge drinking and marijuana and no empirical studies have explored misperceptions related to “novel drugs.” The present study explored the extent of use and perceptions of use among a college sample (N = 2,349) for three categories of novel drugs: synthetic cannabinoids (Spice, K2, Mr. Miyagi, Pot-Pourri, etc.), synthetic cathinones (commonly known as “bath salts”), and Salvia divinorum. Results indicate that overall perceived use was significantly higher than actual reported use. The frequency of overestimation of peer use was particularly large for the emerging drugs when compared to alcohol and marijuana. This finding is concerning as these misperceptions have the potential to influence students toward experimentation with these substances and suggests that a possible target for intervention is misperceptions of emerging novel substances.

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