By John C. McClanahan
College students are one of the largest groups of drug abusers nationwide. Stress, peer pressure, course loads, boredom and curiosity can contribute to students’ use of mind-altering substances, according to addictioncenter.com.
Nowadays, a student might burn a blunt after studying for five hours or pop an Adderall to study for another five hours. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, college students are at a significantly higher risk of being exposed to cannabis, also known as marijuana, than those who do not enroll in college.
Cannabis is a complex plant that consists of over 400 compounds, of which 60 are cannabinoids, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the psychoactive chemical that gives cannabis users feelings of euphoria – commonly known as a high – according to NIDA.
In 2017, a NIDA study conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan concluded there has been an increase in cannabis use among college students, the highest in 30 years. Many experts say cannabis can be used to reduce anxiety and stress, which may be beneficial to stressed students trying to juggle course loads, work and social life.
Recreational cannabis use is legal in 10 states and Washington, D. C., and medical cannabis is legal in 33 states, according to Business Insider. Students enrolled in universities on the West Coast, such as the University of Southern California or Oregon State University, can legally smoke a joint while studying or rip a bong after completing a research paper. But in Texas, possession of 2 ounces or less of cannabis is a class B misdemeanor, and the penalty is a possible $2,000 fine and 180 day jail sentence, according to Texas NORML.
Despite being illegal in most states, cannabis consumption is a go-to for users seeking relaxation, but this effect may depend on the amount of THC consumed. In 2017, researchers at the University of Chicago and The University of Illinois at Chicago reported THC can reduce stress, but only at certain doses.
Emma Childs, associate professor of psychiatry at The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, said: “Very few published studies have looked into the effects of THC on stress, or at the effects of different levels of THC on stress. Our findings provide some support for the common claim that cannabis is used to reduce stress and relieve tension and anxiety.”
She also said cannabis reduces stress and anxiety only when low levels of THC have been consumed. High levels might have a reverse effect. It is probably not a good idea for a student to eat a whole bag of THC-infused gummies or dab kief-covered moonrocks before a study session.
Although marijuana can reduce workload stress, it might hinder a student’s studying process. According to “Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstacy,” the inhibition of memory formation after cannabis use negatively affects mental function.
When lab rats were given THC, they showed deficits in forming new memories, although they were still able to recall previously learned information, according to “Buzzed.” Animals given THC perform memory tasks as poorly as those with a damaged hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory. However, the studies show these effects on hippocampal cells occurred after rats were given very high amounts of THC for several months. And the THC doses given to the rats in many of these animal studies were hundreds of times higher than a human user can consume at one time. Lower THC levels tested significantly higher as well.
Although users’ experiences are subjective, cannabis consumption can reduce stress for some college students if the level of THC intake is not too high. Marijuana might be good to use after hours of coursework, but not during a long study session.