Is Legalization Related to Record-High Marijuana Use in College Students?

People discussing Marijuana Use in College Students

Marijuana use among college students has been steadily increasing over the past decade. In fact, marijuana use among American college students was seen to be at the highest level in 2016 in the past three decades, and this increasing trend has continued since then.

Substance abuse remains to be a major public health concern, as illicit drug use stands to be the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in adolescents today.

Impact of the legalization of recreational marijuana

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana for adult use. Mapping marijuana laws in 2018 show 33 states and the District of Columbia to have currently passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form.

The District of Columbia and ten states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have legalized marijuana for recreational use. More states are expected to legalize in the near future.

With college students having the highest rates of use in the U.S., whether legal or not, it is essential to explore the impact of legalization upon this population.

Study and Research BookA recent study assessed the impact of legalization of recreational marijuana on college students and discovered that rates of marijuana use in Colorado college students were higher than the national average, especially regarding daily users.

Surveys of 8th- and 10th-graders in Washington found these students to be 2 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, more likely to report using marijuana after the legalization vote than they were before it, according to a review of survey data published in JAMA Pediatrics in February 2017.

However, many argue that concerns regarding increased adolescent marijuana use as an unintended effect of legalizing marijuana are premature and uncertain. Since these changes are still relatively new, further investigation is needed to conclude anything.

Diminishing perceived risk of marijuana

In combination with the recent legalizations, extensive advertising, adult use, and related opinion surveys have consistently relayed a favorable public opinion, lowered perceived risks, and greater public appearance.

In 2017, only 27 percent of young adults, aged 19-22, regarded the regular use of marijuana as hugely harmful, the lowest level since 1980, compared to 75 percent believing so in 1991. Since 1975, between 80 percent and 90 percent of 12th graders, each year have reported access to marijuana fairly easy, with that figure standing at 80 percent in 2017.

The emerging trend of vaping

E-cigarettes is another rising trend among young adolescents. Typically used for nicotine, vaping devices can vaporize other substances, such as marijuana, as well.

A Vape MachineOne in ten 12th grade students reported vaping in the past 12 months, and the prevalence was 8 percent for 10th grade and 3 percent for 8th-grade students.

In each grade, more than one-fourth of students who had used marijuana had experienced vaping it as well.

Why is this assessment important?

“The continued increase of daily marijuana use among noncollege youth is especially worrisome,” said John Schulenberg of the Monitoring the Future Panel Study. “The brain is still growing in the early 20s, and the scientific evidence indicates that heavy marijuana use can be detrimental to cognitive functioning and mental health.”

“As for college students, we know from our research and that of others that heavy marijuana use is associated with poor academic performance and dropping out of college.”

Some studies have linked marijuana use as a precursor to future addictions to alcohol and other illicit substances. It is imperative to raise awareness in schools, including students and parents, regarding the long-term effects of marijuana on a developing brain and ahead into adult life.



About the Author:

Sana Ahmed photoSana Ahmed is a journalist and social media savvy content writer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills. She has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. Her recent work has largely been focused upon mental health and addiction recovery.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

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Published on February 25, 2019
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 25, 2019
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