Cannabis and College Students: Help or Hindrance?

EvCC students share their experiences with the plant.

It appears that cannabis is here to stay. With states continuing to put legalization on the ballot, the green wave is sweeping the country. College students specifically can’t get enough of the plant: In a report from 2018, the University of Michigan found that cannabis use among U.S. college students is at a 35-year high. Even though the substance is on its way to becoming the norm, the debate on whether weed is a help or a hindrance still sparks fierce debate. 

Washington state voters voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use in 2012, the first state to do so along with Colorado. Although state legalization occurred eight years ago, for many Washingtonians weed is still seen as taboo compared to cracking open a beer at the end of the day. 

EvCC guidelines state that “Illegal possession, consumption, selling, or distributing, or being demonstrably under the influence of marijuana… is prohibited.” Despite the rules about on-campus use, EvCC students still partake outside of college grounds for reasons ranging from stress management to social situations.

Alexander Stewart, a 26-year-old Criminal Justice student, partakes in cannabis use only for special

EvCC criminal justice student Alexander Stewart. (Courtesy photo from Alexander Stewart)

occasions with close friends. He’s found all of his experiences with the plant to be positive, and it has helped him “have fun, bond with friends, [and have] deeper conversations.” He believes weed can be utilized by college students to reduce anxiety and bring a sense of calmness in the tumultuous world of online education.

While some students only have occasional dates with Mary Jane, others use it every day to deal with the stressors of life. Dental Hygiene student Erin, 23, says, “I use cannabis almost daily to help with relieving stress. I have a pretty high-stress life at the moment, so after I am all done with schoolwork, house chores and whatever else needs to be done, I like to take my mind off what is going on in my life and just chill.” 

Others have mixed feelings. John Smith has fond memories of weed in his youth, like when he placed his order at a drive-through and then forgot to pull up to the window to get his food. The 50-year-old CAD student now only uses CBD oil for pain management and is wary of everyday use by college-aged students. 

My daughter is almost 19. Since marijuana is legal in Washington it is much easier to get than it was for me when I was 17,18 or 19. She has been using it for at least a few years, maybe 4, maybe more, maybe less. I don’t think that is a good thing. I see a lot of people who think it’s great to use marijuana almost every day like it’s no big deal. To me, it seems like they just want to zone out most of the time.”

Zoning out could be an issue when it comes to getting schoolwork done, and that is why frequent cannabis user Erin clarified her stance on it. “It could hinder them if they tried to get high, and then do schoolwork. I think it should be something that can be done after they are done with homework.” 

Cannabis is not a one-size-fits-all experience for everyone, and whether it is a help or hindrance varies from person to person. Sociology major Victoria Nelson believes it has the potential to be both beneficial and potentially harmful to students. “I think it can be both. To me, it all depends on how you are using it.

21-year-old sociology major Victoria Nelson. (Courtesy photo from Victoria Nelson)

To me it can help for sure, but I am sure to others it could be a hindrance.”

The same University of Michigan report found that “alcohol use has been declining for several years among college students” and the prevalence of binge drinking was at a record low since 1980. The trends are clear: a record high of cannabis use and a record low of reported drinking reflects the veer into a world where weed is becoming more socially accepted, and preferred, as a social lubricant and stress-reducer.

As marijuana becomes more integrated into our society, it is important to listen to how your body responds to the plant, and to take note of whether it is an impediment to your focus or an important tool for stress-relief. “Everything in life should be used, or consumed in moderation,” says Smith, “Using good judgment before, during, and after using marijuana is just as important as it is when using alcohol.”