Drug use in songs

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Since the 1930s, references to drug use in music have been common, and have prompted several studies on the link between such references and increased drug use among teens and young adults.



As drugs have been mainstreamed more than ever into the media, the numbers of teens trying these substances has also increased. Whether or not this is a coincidence is unknown. From 2008 to 2009 alone, the percent of youth using harmful drugs has jumped from 9.3% to 10% of the whole population.[1][not in citation given] Research from the SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health states, “In 2008, an estimated 20.1 million Americans ages 12 or older were current illicit drug users.”[2] Many researchers have taken it upon themselves to study this situation, looking into whether or not lyrics stick with a person and affect them. As most teens claim “listening to music” as one of their pastimes, even going as far as calling it “their most preferred non-school activity,”[3] one must wonder what effect the lyrics in those songs have on them. Researchers are not completely positive about whether or not these songs steer their listener into a numbness on the topic, instill a positive message that drug use is harmful, or have no effect at all on the listeners.

Songs referencing drugs

There are a great number of songs which are very commonly known for hints towards drug use in the lyrics. Some songs, such as "Blunt Blowin'" by Lil Wayne, "Because I Got High" by Afroman, and Cab Calloway’s "Reefer Man", plainly state, even by the title alone, that the song is referencing drugs (though song differ in whether they portray drug use in a positive or negative light; "Because I Got High", for example, includes lyrics focusing on the negatives of drug use. Although some have claimed that The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" refers to LSD,[4] The Beatles themselves denied this.[citation needed] Also by The Beatles, the song "Strawberry Fields Forever" is rumored to be describing an experience of getting high by injection - the phrase "strawberry fields" referring to needle tracks.[5] However, even though this rumor about the song's meaning is floating through the media, it is important to remember that it may simply be a song about fields of strawberries or the property on the outskirts of Liverpool called Strawberry Fields. The famous song "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones, said by the band to simply be a song about a friend ‘“Jumpin’” Jack Dyer’, is commonly said to be written about a method, called Jumpin’ Jack Flash, of injecting heroin through the tear ducts.[1] This idea is reinforced by the lyrics; “a spike right through my head.” There are songs, such as "Colt 45" by Afroman that have lyrics that could not be mistaken for anything besides referencing drug use, with lyrics such as, “Smoke that tumbleweed. As the marijuana burn we can take our turn…so roll, roll, roll my joint, pick out the seeds and stems.” Some songs even show the subject of drug use in a negative manner. For example, Neil Young’s "The Needle and the Damage Done" shows that drug use could take your life: “Every junkie’s like a settin’ sun.”[citation needed]

Early trends

Released in the 1930s, songs such as ""Reefer Man" and "Viper’s Drag" were among the few songs that mentioned drugs in their lyrics before the 1960s. The majority of post-Depression music had portrayed positive, uplifting lyrics in attempt to encourage listeners in the midst of harsh economical times as well as the great number of unemployed individuals. When World War II began, the subject of songs continued to shift, promoting “American fight-songs.” Then, in the midst of the Vietnam War, that shift continued and began sending anti-war messages to listeners. A Cumberland University article states, “It was not until the aftermath of the sixties youth counterculture, however, that drug lyrics became a recurring musical motif.”[6] These early references to drugs can be found most abundantly in folk and rock music during this time. This time in music was rapidly changing with the British Invasion, as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, and many more music groups filtered into the American media. At this same time, the culture changed and drugs became much more common and easier to obtain. The media was affected by this change and references to drugs in songs became normal. Eventually, the deaths of music artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, all from overdosing, may have contributed to anti-drug messages becoming more prominent in popular music.[citation needed]


A study sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy took a close look at how movies and lyrics affect teens. Looking at chart-topping songs of 2007, it was found that one-third of these songs referenced either drugs or alcohol.[citation needed] Researchers found that 37% of all country songs sing about drugs or alcohol.[7] However, in another survey, it was found that 63% of the most popular rap songs contained references to illicit drugs.[citation needed] Studies show that only 6% of a list of famous songs studied referencing drugs depicted them as harmful.[3] However, the same study mentions, “It is important to acknowledge that the mere existence of a certain type of media portrayal does not ensure that audiences will be influenced by it.”[3]