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Trend: College Marijuana Use is on the Rise

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© Petr Brož / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Once branded as a dangerous gateway drug, seducing our youth into lives of addiction, the culture around marijuana is changing. It is now legal in several states, and as attitudes towards cannabis in the United States change, more college students are smoking pot.

Approximately 5.9 percent of college students– about one in 17– smokes marijuana every day, or nearly every day, according to research by The National Institute on Drug Abuse at The National Institutes of Health (NIH). That’s a 4.1 percent increase since 1991, which means that, of the 20.5 million college students in the United States, more than 1.2 million of them use marijuana regularly– an increase of almost a million students.

Perceptions of marijuana use have also shifted. According to the same NIH research, only 8-10 percent of college students believe that experimental marijuana use is risky, compared to 55-58 percent in 2006.

At Loyola, it seems that even more students are open to marijuana use. According to an informal poll by the Loyola Phoenix in early November, 82 percent of Loyola students support recreational marijuana legalization. 56 percent said they currently use marijuana, and 66 percent of students who do not currently use marijuana say they would do so if it were legalized.

“I have no idea how prevalent cannabis use is at Loyola,” said Rory McPeak, a 21 year old senior economics major. “I doubt that most students use it, but the way SSDP [Students for Sensible Drug Policy] has been received by the student body indicates to me that students generally support legalization, certainly for medical purposes.”

Despite growing support for legalization, it is unlikely that the United States will see a broad change of federal policy any time soon. There is little scientific evidence about marijuana’s long-term effects because, as a schedule I substance, it is illegal to perform research on the drug.

Still, there is growing evidence that marijuana may be less harmful than alcohol. According to the website LiveScience, it is nearly impossible to overdose on marijuana, and that the long-term effects of alcohol are more severe than marijuana. Alcohol can lead to liver damage, fibrosis, and even cancer, while marijuana can cause bronchitis and chronic inflammation of airways. There is no known link between marijuana and cancer, although there is anecdotal evidence that cannabinoids, the active compounds in marijuana, can kill cancer cells.

Many opponents of marijuana legalization point to evidence that it might contribute to some psychological disorders like schizophrenia and psychosis, but alcohol has also been shown to also trigger mental illness and psychosis.

“I think that it’s only a matter of time before it’s legalized,” said Forrest Major, a second-year undecided student at Loyola. “I know so many people who use marijuana. It seems like everyone does now. It’s just so surprising to me that it’s taking so long to become legal.”

Today, it seems that the process of marijuana legalization is outpacing the rate of scientific research on the drug. On November 8, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana, adding to the growing total of states that have legal pot: Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C.; 20 states also have legal medical marijuana: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Since the election of Donald J. Trump, some have expressed fear that his administration will block legal marijuana laws. However, Trump has said he knows people who have benefitted from medical marijuana, and said it should be a “state-by-state” issue. And as the trend of marijuana legalization continues, it seems that it will be up to state governments to decide whether or not to go green.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.