How Many College Freshmen Use Marijuana?

Posted on December 15th, 2014
Posted in Marijuana

Marijuana is the most popular form of cannabis, a plant-based drug capable of producing problems with substance abuse and substance addiction in repeat users. In a study published in 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine sought to find out how many teenagers entering a college or university have used marijuana at some point in their lifetimes or start using the drug during their freshman year. These researchers also looked at the factors that make a history of marijuana intake more likely, as well as the factors that make a college freshman more likely to begin marijuana use.

Marijuana comes from drying the above-ground parts of plants belonging to two closely related species, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Once dried, these leaves, stems and flowers can be smoked or eaten. Like two other forms of cannabis, hashish and hashish oil, marijuana derives its popularity as a recreational drug from the mind alteration produced by a naturally occurring substance called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which triggers changes in the brain’s normal balance of chemicals.

With the increasing acceptance of marijuana use in U.S. society, many people are unaware of or deemphasize the known harms associated with casual or habitual use of this drug. Perhaps the most prominent examples of these harms are the risks for developing a diagnosable case of cannabis addiction or impairing cannabis abuse (known collectively as cannabis use disorder). Current findings show that almost one out of every 10 adult casual users of marijuana will develop serious abuse- or addiction-related problems. Teen casual users of the drug develop these problems at almost double the rate found among adults. In addition, at least 25 percent of daily marijuana users will eventually develop cannabis use disorder.

Use Among College Freshmen

Current information from government and university researchers shows that nearly 47 percent of college and university students have used marijuana at least once, and just over 19 percent use the drug on a monthly basis. In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, the Wake Forest School of Medicine researchers focused on marijuana use among college freshmen. They conducted their work with the help of 3,146 freshmen enrolled at 11 colleges and universities in Virginia and North Carolina. In addition to asking each of these students to outline his or her history of marijuana intake, the researchers gathered detailed information on each participant’s demographic background (gender, ethnicity, income, etc.), involvement in other forms of substance use, social ties on campus, living arrangements, tendency to seek out highly stimulating (and potentially dangerous) experiences and history of mental health problems.

The researchers found that just under 30 percent of the study participants had a history of marijuana use prior to entering college. They concluded that a range of factors help increase the likelihood that any given student will have such a history. These factors include having a previous history of using another illegal or illicit drug,being a current smoker or alcohol consumer, having the ability to freely spend $100 or more in any given month, having an unusually high tendency to seek out stimulating experiences and having little or no involvement with church attendance.

The researchers also found that 8.5 percent of the study participants who did not use marijuana prior to entering college started using the drug at some point during their freshman year. They concluded that certain factors increase the chances that any given student will initiate this transition into use. These factors include residing in an on-campus dormitory, being a current smoker or alcohol consumer and having a Hispanic ethnic or cultural identity.

The authors of the study published in Addictive Behaviors note that they gathered their information by asking students to self-report their level of involvement in marijuana use. It’s possible that this method led to some degree of underreporting among the study participants, although the authors also note that teenagers tend to be more truthful when answering drug-related questions away from their homes and families. The current study is quite large and detailed compared to most previous efforts aimed at examining marijuana use among college freshmen. The authors believe that their findings provide valuable resources for school administrators and public health officials seeking to prevent or decrease substance abuse on college campuses. In addition, they hope that future researchers will continue to explore the factors that contribute to marijuana use during the rest of any given student’s college life.

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