In the past three decades, an increasing number of students have been trying marijuana for the first time in college, according to a recent study led by Research Prof. Richard Miech at the University's Institute for Social Research.
These results come from a larger, ongoing study called Monitoring the Future, which has "measured drug, alcohol, and cigarette use among adolsecent students nationwide" since 1975, according to its website. The study's participants consist of young adults aged 19 to 22 who had never tried marijuana by 12th grade between 1977 and 2015.
The study found from 2013 to 2015, the probability of students having tried marijuana for the first time during college increased 10 percent each year — compared to those not enrolled in college. Specifically, in 2013, 31 percent of students tried marijuana for the first time in college, and in 2015 — 51 percent. Alternatively, between 1977 and 2012, the average college student having tried marijuana for the first time lingered between 17 percent and 20 percent.
Miech, who conceptualized and carried out the study, wrote in an email interview the steady increase in marijuana exposure amongst college students is due to the recent increase of support to legalize marijuana, stating students take this trend to mean marijuana is safe.
“It is likely that a substantial portion of young adults interpret this trend as a sign that marijuana use is safe, and state-sanctioned, like alcohol,” he wrote. “Just this November California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada joined the growing list of states with legalized marijuana use. Our study has shown time and again that youth who (have) more tolerant attitudes toward marijuana are more likely to try it and become users.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2015, more than 11 million people ages 18 to 25 had used marijuana in the past year. Immediate effects of the drug include altered sense of sight, impaired memory and difficulty thinking, among others. It can lead to breathing problems, increased heart rate and impaired brain development, as well.
Currently, the University requires all incoming first-year freshmen to complete online educational programs designed to teach them about prominent issues on college campuses, such as those related to alcohol and sexual assault, but does not require or offer any programs regarding marijuana.
Miech believes universities should teach students about marijuana use as well.
“I think a major implication of this finding is that Universities should start examining how to extend their current programs to curb binge drinking and sexual assault to the prevention/reduction of marijuana use,” he wrote.
He went on to explain students' early days at college are critical to the development of related behaviors.
“A freshman's first six weeks of class is a key risk period to engage in binge drinking, and many college prevention programs focus on this time period,” he wrote. “Is this also a key time period for first use of marijuana? It makes sense to me to see what policies and insights from binge drinking programs are extendable to marijuana, as well as to develop marijuana-specific policies.”
LSA freshman Erica Noble said the University should do more to educate first-year students on marijuana consumption.
“If people are new to marijuana they could misuse it,” Noble said.
She described how, in the first few months, first-year students are more inclined to try marijuana in order to socialize and make friends.
“Everyone is partying and getting to know new people, which gives you a ton of instances where you can try drugs like marijuana,” Noble said.
For LSA senior Christelle Beauboeuf, the increase in the number of first-year students trying marijuana is caused by the decrease in stigmatization about marijuana in today’s culture.
“People are a lot more chill about weed these days,” Beauboeuf said.