Marijuana Use Among College Students

February 12th, 2019


With marijuana legalization activists and advocates making significant progress in recent years, the agenda becomes an even more debated topic in the U.S. society.

On the one hand, the supporters of the legalization point to a number of medical benefits associated with consumption of the drug. On the other hand, numerous opponents claim that the decision will only worsen the ongoing opioid epidemic.

One of the most common arguments put forth by the opponents of marijuana legislation is the negative impact of the drug on young people. Indeed, there have been numerous surveys showing a high prevalence of cannabis use among the young, especially the student population.

While the effects of marijuana use are known, the full range of medical benefits of the cannabis plant is still insufficiently researched. This, of course, makes the debate even more complicated, but let’s take a look at the current levels of marijuana use among U.S. students and consider some of the involved benefits and harms.

Prevalence of Marijuana Use among U.S. Students

More and more U.S. students claimed to have used cannabis in recent years, according to scholar studies.

For example, the annual national Monitoring the Future Panel Study found that college students’ use of marijuana was at the highest level in the past three decades in 2016, and the trend continued through 2017 as well.

Heavy marijuana use among college students was also on the rise, according to the most recent findings from the University of Michigan study. Today’s high levels of marijuana use among the nation’s 19-to-22-year-olds result from a gradual increase over the past decade.

In 2017, 38 percent of college students aged 19-22 reported using marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months, and 21 percent reported using at least once in the prior 30 days.

Both of these levels peaked in 2016, the highest found since 1987, and did not change significantly in 2017. The 2017 levels represent gradual increases since 2006 when they were 30 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

Clearly, marijuana use has been steadily increasing among college students in the past decade. Does this mean that the government should take additional measures to curb this problem or even ban the use altogether?

The implications of the regular use of cannabis for an adolescent brain surely support this way.

Consequences of Marijuana Use

Here there some major consequences of marijuana use that legislation opponents cite:

  • Significant brain abnormalities were found in 18 to 25 year-olds who smoked marijuana at least once a week.The abnormalities were in the emotion and reward centers of the brain. This suggests that even casual marijuana use can increase the chance of developing other addictions later on, and may affect people’s ability to deal with emotions.
  • Marijuana could be toxic to the adolescent brain.One study followed over 1,000 individuals who began using marijuana as adolescents. The study compared their IQ at 13 and 38 years old. During this period IQ would normally remain stable or slightly increase. But for regular marijuana users, IQ declined by 6 points on average. Furthermore, stopping marijuana use did not fully restore the damage.
  • Marijuana users are 4 times more likely to develop depression.One study looked at 1,920 people, and followed them for 16 years. It discovered that people who smoked marijuana were 4 times more likely to develop depression.  Another study looked at 1,601 students aged 14 to 15 and followed them for seven years. The young women of the group who were daily users had a far greater chance of developing depression.
  • Marijuana almost triples the chance of developing psychotic symptoms.A 3-year study followed 4,045 psychosis-free people. It came to the conclusion that marijuana smokers are three times more likely to develop psychotic symptoms (including manic-depression) than non-smokers.

But how about Students who are Legal Marijuana Users?

While these implications surely are important, one cannot ignore the fact that there are thousands of students who need treatments involving medical marijuana. Many of them even struggle to stay in school without prescribed cannabis-based treatments administered throughout the day.

Besides, there are cannabidiol oil (CBD) based medications that have been approved by the FDA to treat anxiety-related disorders, which supports the claim that cannabis is effective in relieving the condition.

That’s why some states are beginning to change their policies on the use of medical marijuana on campuses where drug tests are not imposed. For example, the Supreme Court in Arizona has recently overturned a 2012 law passed by the Legislature that prohibited cardholders from possessing and using cannabis on campuses in the state.

A recent study in Canada researching the students’ reasons for using cannabis found they were turning to it to self-medicate, handle stress, anxiety, and depression. This is a critical issue to resolve because one in 5 college students have depression or anxiety. Even though teens thought of cannabis as an effective tool to cope with the pressures of studying, the study also discovered that they didn’t know all the risks; specifically, they perceived cannabis to be non-addictive.

Final Thoughts

While the consequences of regular, non-medical use of marijuana are known, it’s also clear that the plant is critical for many students who need it to manage their conditions and relieve stress. So, it’s sufficient to claim that appropriate policies and controls are needed to minimize the risk of abuse. At this point, however, it seems that the debate over marijuana legalization will continue, even though decisive action is critical to help students needing it for legal purposes.

Mary Walton is a professional editor, content strategist and a part of NCSM team. Apart from writing, Mary is passionate about hiking and gaming.


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