Marijuana is the single most common illicit drug used in the United States, and college kids are part of this trend.
According to a study from from the University of Michigan, Monitoring the Future, college students smoke weed at a higher rate than at any time in the past 35 years, and smoking weed has now surpassed daily cigarette smoking.
So we know college kids love being high, but why?
Let's start with the chemical in marijuana that sparks the psychological effects of smoking, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Putting it simply, it's what gets you high.
According to the Potency Monitoring Project, the average THC content in marijuana has skyrocketed since the 1970s. In 1972, the average THC content in marijuana was less than 1 percent. In the 1990s, that percentage moved up to around 3-4 percent, and today, the average THC content in marijuana is at 13 percent.
With marijuana being EXTREMELY strong today, the effects it has on the human body are much more apparent than they ever were in the past. Let's start with the effect marijuana has on a person's brain and body, and how all of those effects play a huge role in college students everyday life.
First, how marijuana affects the human brain. I'm about to get all scientific up in here, so bear with me. According to drugabuse.gov "When marijuana is smoked, THC and other chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which rapidly carries them throughout the body and to the brain."
When the THC chemicals reach the brain, it stimulates the brain's cells to release the chemical known as dopamine. By getting to those cells and producing more dopamine than you would normally experience at one time, you will then feel a feeling of ~euphoria~, also known as the feeling of being high.
Remember, marijuana reaches the same pleasure centers in the brain that are targeted by heroin, cocaine and alcohol, and it can affect the brain in different ways, all depending on quantity, THC content, and how it is consumed.
So what does this have to do with college students?
Think about all the stress associated with classes, a social life, and finances. Smoking weed can help alleviate these daily stresses.
Plus, they have time. College students only go to class on an average of 25 hours a week. What else are they going to do with all that extra time?
But most college students probably don't exactly know what is happening in their brain or body when they smoke weed. And quite frankly, it could be harmful to their futures and/or mental well-being.
There are four functions of the human brain that are affected while being high. The first being your mental state. This means that smoking COULD bring on anxiety, paranoia or lethargy. So, for some college students, smoking weed isn't a fun past-time because they react badly to being high. It makes them worried, and makes them think about too many things at once, bringing on anxiety and fear.
For the college students who do enjoy the feeling of being high, smoking weed actually helps the student with anxiety or paranoia. Because with no parents around, and a huge exam that needs to be studied for, a quick joint could be the perfect pastime that'd help to relieve the stress for a couple hours.
The second brain function that is affected by inhaling THC is a person's short term memory. This is a huge side effect that could really hurt a college student's grades. For normal users, this can really make studying for an important test difficult.
While memory impairment is a downside for most marijuana users, THC can help some people forget bad memories. Which could be a reason that some kids smoke so much. It sounds like bullshit, but for many, smoking weed is therapeutic and takes a lot of pain away from past experiences.
The third brain function affected is ocular pressure. In simpler terms, this is why people's eyes get so red and bloodshot when they are high. Smoking pot will make your eyes extremely dry, creating redness and itchiness. This is a very normal problem that occurs in pot smokers, and can't really be avoided. Walking around campus, it's usually pretty easy to spot the kids who are high, because of their eyes. Unless, of course, they use eye drops.
Reasoning is the last brain function that is affected by smoking weed. This means that smoking weed affects a person's attention span to a great extent. This is what makes being productive extremely hard for college students who smoke. So many kids in college will wake up, realize they don't have class, and smoke a bong. While this may seem like the life, it also alters that person's productivity in a huge way.
So how does all this really affect college students? Well, their grades for one.
Students who use marijuana are less likely to spend any more than two hours per day in studies and typically carry a B average or less. And while a B average isn't the worst thing in the world, the grades can get worse and worse the longer one stays a consistent pot smoker. But I mean, it's so easy in college. Kids just don't realize that it not only affects that day, but their future as well.
Smoking weed can also affect college students from a physical perspective. According to webmb.com, "No matter how it gets into your system, it affects almost every organ in your body, and your nervous system and immune system, too." The effects of being high normally last for 3-4 hours. The most common physical effects of marijuana, according to webmd.com, are:
-Red eyes and dilated pupils
-Slowed reaction time
But one of the biggest effects that smoking pot has on a person, is increased appetite, also known as the munchies.
But how does this actually work? According to smithsonianmag.com, "THC appears to increase our sensitivity to scents and flavors by using naturally occurring neural networks to convince the brain that it's starving." For college kids, this benefit can make eating an enjoyable activity. A big reason as to why people eat more after smoking weed, is simply because one can smell and taste food much more intensely. But for regular smokers, the munchies can speed up weight gain and can really hurt a person physically.
The munchies truly hurt a lot of college students. Everyone is aware of the freshman 15. Most of the extra eating comes with drunk eating, and drinking tons and tons of alcohol. But during the day when there's nothing to do, college students smoke. And this is another huge reason as to why kids gain so much weight in college.
So the science behind smoking weed can get a little boring, but for so many college students, all of these facts and effects are unknown. It's also difficult to really know how smoking weed affects college students, since research is limited due to the fact that marijuana is still illegal in most states. While 20 states and the District have made medical marijuana legal, it remains among the most tightly controlled substances under federal law. For scientists, that means extra steps to obtain, transport and secure the drug -- delays they say can slow down their research by months or even years.
But what does the future look like for these college students who smoke regularly?