Are students affected by marijuana usage?

Chart by Rebecca Kottke

Chart by Rebecca Kottke

Because of federal funding under the Drug Free School and Communities act, universities cannot condone substance use on a college campus. Recreational marijuana use is currently legal in 29 states and Washington D.C. under individual state laws, but is illegal under federal law. Recreational usage is illegal under Minnesota law.

With legalization right around the corner for many more states, recreational usage of marijuana is at an all time high among non-college young adults, according to the National Institute of Health. So how does usage in college students measure up?

According to a survey done in 2017 by UMD health services, 51 percent of UMD students use marijuana, compared to 49 percent of students who identify as non-users. These statistics are consistent with surveys done in the past.

The most common responses from students as to why they choose to smoke included to relax and unwind, socialize and “self-medicate.”

Lauretta Perry, a drug and alcohol educator through UMD’s Health Services, meets with students who have received substance violations on campus, or those who would like to assess their substance use in a safe and confidential environment.

“I’m checking in with students,” Perry said. “It’s an opportunity to have a confidential conversation with students about their use and how they see it impacting them.”

Many students who identify as cannabis users do not feel as though it has any detrimental impact; 69 percent of students surveyed in 2017 by Health Services perceived alcohol as being worse than weed.

Because marijuana is still a criminal substance under Minnesota law, the following sources have been granted anonymity.

One UMD sophomore first tried smoking marijuana at age 17, and progressed to regularly using the substance at age 18. The source estimated that they smoke around one gram of weed per day.

Chart by Rebecca Kottke

Chart by Rebecca Kottke

“I smoke because it’s enjoyable,” they said. “For me it’s a better alternative than alcohol because I can still smoke and be productive, and I feel a lot more in control. I know that I can’t overdose or seriously hurt myself when I smoke.”

When asked whether they see marijuana as being a “gateway drug”, the source responded that “weed, cigarettes, and alcohol are all gateway drugs--they are the most common first things that people will try, but the meth addict didn’t become a meth addict because he smoked weed; he became a meth addict because he smoked meth.”

Another anonymous source, a UMD junior, began smoking at age 14, and started selling weed earlier this year.

“In one week, we sell to about 15 to 25 different individuals, with usually more transactions,” the source said. “In a good week, we’ll push about one to two pounds. If we were caught, we would probably be arrested over this amount.”

As to why they deal, the source said that they “sell weed to have extra money around for rent and other things.”

Alison Westberg, a UMD sophomore, is a vocal non-user.  

“I don’t smoke because my dad is a forensic scientist and sees the effects of drugs on a daily basis, and my whole life I’ve been told that it is a slippery slope,” she said. “I honestly do think it’s harmful; there may not be health issues tied to smoking weed, but it can get in the way of studies. Financially, it’s an expensive hobby to have.”

According to Perry, cannabis is a habit forming substance, and many students are conditioning themselves to rely on it. Westberg agrees with this, and said that “kids don’t realize how much they’re intaking, and it can end up being very harmful.”

It is impossible to overdose from marijuana use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Users can, however, experience extreme anxiety or psychotic reactions, where they lose touch with reality and may become paranoid.

It’s not all bad though—in an article on medical marijuana from the Harvard Health blog, weed has countless health benefits, ranging from treatments for tremors brought on by Parkinson’s disease to lessening chronic pain and assisting in treatments for PTSD.

In the end, whether or not the usage of recreational marijuana is harmful to college students comes down to a matter of opinion—one student may be more affected by the substance than another, and as of right now there is no way to predict how someone will react to it.

Drug and alcohol educators and counselors are available for students to meet with through UMD Health Services.