Marijuana Use Spikes at Colleges on St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras

Recent evidence from a group of American researchers points to increased consumption of marijuana/cannabis on college campuses during holiday occasions normally associated with increased consumption of alcohol.
St. Patrick's Day Drug Abuse

Current findings indicate that young adults on America’s college campuses consume marijuana more often now than at any other point in recent decades. Researchers and public health officials are well aware that the consumption of another substance popular among college students, alcohol, goes up during certain holidays. In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from two U.S. universities looked for signs of a similar increase in marijuana/cannabis use during those same holidays.

College and Marijuana Use

The University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse use an annual survey project called Monitoring the Future (MTF) to follow drug use trends in the U.S. This project focuses primarily on teenagers enrolled in the 12th, 10th and eighth grades. However, Monitoring the Future also tracks its former teen participants as they grow older over time. MTF figures indicate that 30% of Americans enrolled in college consumed marijuana at least one time in 2006. By 2013, the rate of annual use had increased to almost 36%. In the early ’90s, just 2% of all college students qualified as habitual marijuana consumers by using the drug every day or almost every day. By 2013, the number of habitual consumers on college campuses had more than doubled, and the current rate of daily or near-daily use is higher than any previously recorded by Monitoring the Future.

Habitual marijuana use is important because anywhere from 25% to 50% of all daily or near-daily consumers of the drug will develop cannabis use disorder, a condition that includes 11 possible symptoms of non-addicted, dysfunctional cannabis abuse and/or cannabis addiction. Rates for diagnosable abuse/addiction problems in occasional consumers of marijuana are substantially lower, although roughly 9% of the nation’s total pool of consumers will eventually develop cannabis use disorder. Based on the number of symptoms present, doctors make distinctions between mild, moderate and severe cases of the condition.

College and Alcohol Use

Despite the recent surge in the popularity and acceptability of marijuana, alcohol is still the most commonly consumed substance on college campuses. Unfortunately, young adults (especially those enrolled in college) often consume alcohol in highly risky ways, and therefore seriously increase their chances of experiencing alcohol-related harms such as accidental injuries, physical assaults, sexual assaults and alcohol poisoning. Such harms are particularly associated with binge drinking, a form of consumption defined by a level of alcohol intake rapid enough and heavy enough to produce legal drunkenness in 120 minutes or less. Alcohol intake among college students typically rises sharply during the opening weeks of school, as well as during traditionally alcohol-oriented holidays such as Saint Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras.

Event-Related Spikes in Marijuana/Cannabis Intake

In the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from Louisiana State University and Missouri University of Science and Technology used information collected from undergraduate students from two colleges to help determine if college marijuana/cannabis use goes through event-related spikes similar to those associated with college alcohol use. A total of 154 students took part in the project; all of these students self-identified as marijuana/cannabis consumers. Each participant completed a detailed survey designed to determine his or her pattern of drug use and to compare the amount of marijuana/cannabis consumed on the average day to the amount consumed on Saint Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras.

The researchers concluded that the marijuana/cannabis-consuming college students used more of the drug on Saint Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras than on the average non-holiday weekday, or on a non-substance-related holiday like President’s Day. Students also consumed more of the drug on Saint Patrick’s Day or Mardi Gras than during the average weekend (when usage rates might also spike compared to weekday rates). Interestingly, the students on one of the participating campuses had a higher level of exposure to damaging outcomes of their drug use on Saint Patrick’s Day, while the students on the other campus had a higher level of exposure to damaging outcomes during Mardi Gras. The researchers believe this fact underscores the school-specific variability in the traditions that encourage marijuana/cannabis intake on specific days of celebration.

Posted on January 12th, 2017

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