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Prevent negative consequences of marijuana use on your campus.

Prevention

Marijuana has become a complicated issue on college campuses within the U.S. On the one hand, it is the most widely used illicit drug by college students, and on the other hand, over past few years its status as illicit has become muddied. While the Federal law remains unchanged–listing it as a Schedule I illegal drug–many state and local laws have softened. Four states have made it legal for adults 21 and older to posses and use marijuana, as has Washington DC. 23 states have also allowed its use for medical purposes.

Federal law, through the Drug Free and Community Act, ties Federal funds campuses rely on to their efforts to prevent illegal drug so it appears that all campuses continue to ban marijuana for any purpose irrespective of state law. However, what students do off campus, and on their own time, may vary by state law.

So what is a student to think of all these changes and the charged political environment marijuana falls within? Perhaps more than ever before, students must be mindful and informed about marijuana.

First, the bad news: public health research on marijuana is still a very young field. Much of what we know about the effects of marijuana comes from a limited set of studies that often rely on correlational methods and often have not been replicated to assure that the results are consistent. This means that the two sides of the legalization debate often throw studies back and forth like bombs with little critical consideration as to their validity. So listening to those exchanges may leave someone believing marijuana is the answer to all medical problems or conversely the sure path to mental and physical destruction.

Now, the good news: it’s not that hard to avoid the negative effects of marijuana. First if you do not use it, then chances are you’ll neither miss out on great medical benefit nor will you suffer any of the plausible cognitive or physical harms. There’s also little risk of so-called “contact highs” from being around smokers of marijuana. However, if you or someone you care about does use marijuana, here are some things to look out for:

College students need their cognitive abilities to perform well in class and progress towards graduation. A few studies have demonstrated that at the very least, there are near term deficits in cognitive abilities especially among young people who use marijuana daily or near daily.

Regular users of marijuana may become dependent and experience withdrawal symptoms that are uncomfortable enough to cause a cycle of continued use.

Marijuana use likely increases the risk of motor-vehicle crash by a factor of two. Using smoked marijuana within five hours of driving is dangerous. Eating marijuana infused candies or baked goods may extend the impairment window by two or three times (yes that means 15 or more hours of no driving).

Mixing even a small amount of alcohol with marijuana use dramatically increases the impairing effect of both substances, putting the user at greater risk or injuring themselves or others.

Those who may be predisposed to developing schizophrenia may have their condition triggered by the use of marijuana; though this remains a very rare condition.

Synthetic marijuana-like drugs, such as K2 and Spice, do not contain cannabinoids like CBD that seem to moderate the psychosis-inducing states that THC-mimicking drugs may induce.

Since every campus bans marijuana, the marijuana user risks campus sanctions even if you’re in a state that permits marijuana.

Athletes may be subject to drug testing as could other students in various programs. Further, many employers test for drugs prior to hiring. Since such tests are almost always urine tests for marijuana metabolites, the fact that such metabolites remains detectable for weeks can put someone in jeopardy for missing out on a new job, sport or other opportunity even if they are only an occasional user.

If you’re rethinking your marijuana use, or are concerned about a friend’s use, there are likely resources on your campus to explore the issue further. Most campuses have a counseling center, a health center, and perhaps a wellness center. Any of these centers will either provide guidance or referrals usually with no risk of campus sanctions. Both medical staff and psychological services staff are governed by Federal privacy rules that protect information about substance use. So they’re a great first start.

Resources

Content provided by Dr. James Lange

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