College Life: Marijuana & College Students – What are the Statistics?

From college athletes to sororities and everything in between, marijuana is a commonly used drug among students on collegiate campuses. In fact, survey data has shown that marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among college students, with the number of students using marijuana increasing nationally over recent years [1].

A significant part of advocacy for substance abuse prevention is raising awareness of the issue and deepening an understanding of any problems at hand.

With that being said, just how severe is the use of marijuana on college campuses and among students? How are students’ lives being impacted by marijuana abuse, and what can be done to improve the current situation?

How College Students’ Lives are Being Impacted by Drug Abuse

Boy Hungover After Using Alcohol And Marijuana _ Addiction Hope To answer these questions, we must first look at the research to grasp an idea of this situation. Once such national survey on drug use among college students, “Monitoring the Future”, gives us greater insight into the use of marijuana by college-aged individuals.

This survey, which was sponsored by The National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, released results on drug use in the United States in 2012.

This survey revealed these results on marijuana use among college students [2]:

  • The annual prevalence of marijuana use was slightly higher among college students in 2012 than among non-college students (34.9% vs 32.7%).
  • Annual marijuana use is higher among college males than females (39% versus 32%).
  • Since 2000, the annual prevalence of marijuana use among college students reached a recent high point of 36% in 2001, declined to 30% in 2006, and then increased to 35% in 2012.

Other research has demonstrated that the highest use of marijuana levels was reported with first-year college students and declining with each year following.

Marijuana use has also been more commonly used at the beginning or end of the academic year, giving rise to the idea that students may be more prone to use this illicit drug when enforcement is not as concentrated [3].

How Students’ Lives are Being Impacted By Marijuana Abuse

Among the many consequences, studies have shown that first-year students who used marijuana five or more times over the past year reported concentration problems (40.1%), regularly putting themselves in danger (24.3%), driving after using marijuana (18.6%), and poor class attendance [4].

Young female student sitting near a tree and studying.Students who use marijuana also have a higher risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, low motivation, and fatigue, with college-aged women being most impacted by anxiety and depression when abusing this drug [5].

Other risks have been identified with the use of marijuana among college students. Studies have discovered that marijuana serves as a “gateway drug”, with reports showing that 91% of college-aged marijuana users being regularly involved with cigarette smoking and/or heaving drinking [6].

College students who use marijuana are also more likely to become violent and suffer from decreased cognitive abilities, compared to college students who do not abuse this drug.

Marijuana Use Poses a Threat on College Campuses

While greater research is needed in this area, the current data does give validity to the danger that poses to students who chose to use marijuana while in college.

This information can be helpful to university staff and higher education institutions, who are seeking to understand the risks involved with their student population involved with marijuana use.

In order to decrease the negative effects and potentially hazardous situations that could arise among students who are abusing marijuana, universities may consider drug prevention programs, screening assessments, or prevention strategies to employ and provide for their student population.

With the rise of marijuana use among students on college campuses, understanding the significance of this growing trend can allow for greater understanding and intervention efforts.

Having the knowledge of the prevalence of marijuana use can give greater insight into ways to adequately address this issue on college campuses.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author:

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.


[1]: CORE Institute. (2010). 2010 statistics on alcohol and other drug use. Retrieved September 8, 2014 from
[2]: “Monitoring the Future”, 2013 National Survey Results on Drug Use
[3]: Dierker, L., et al. Tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use among first-year U.S. college students: a time series analysis substance use & misus. Substance Use & Misuse, 43(5), 680-699.
[4]: Caldeira, K.M., et al. The occurrence of cannabis use disorders and other cannabis-related problems among first-year college students. Addictive Behaviors, 33(3), 397-411.
[5]: Patton, G., et al. Cannabis use and mental health in young people: cohort study. Centre for Adolescent Health, 2002. 355: 1195-1198.
[6]: Gledill-Hoyt, J, et al. Increased use of marijuana and drugs at US Colleges in the 1990s: results of three national surveys. Department of Health and Social Behavior, 95(11), 1655-1667.

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 discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 30, 2016
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