After alcohol, the most commonly used drug by college students are marijuana and precriptions.
Here are some common questions when considering marijuana or precription use.
Marijuana relieves stress, right?
Some people report feeling nothing, and some report experiencing a state of euphoria or "high." But marijuana can also make people feel more anxious, even bringing on panic attacks. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the key ingredient in marijuana, has also been shown to impair learning, memory, and motivation (sources: drugabuse.gov and whitehouse.gov).
Is marijuana addictive?
Yes. Marijuana can be addictive, especially for those who start young and/or use marijuana frequently. Some long-term users report experiencing withdrawal symptoms including irritability, sleeplessness, and anxiety (sources: drugabuse.gov and whitehouse.gov).
Is marijuana stronger today than it used to be?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC concentration (the key psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) averaged close to 15% in 2012, compared to around 4% in the 1980s. But, it's tough to accurately measure potency, as there can be significant variation from plant to plant and sample to sample. For people who smoke, it's hard to know exactly how much THC is being consumed at a given point in time.
Marijuana grows naturally, so how could it be harmful?
Marijuana is still a drug, and like all drugs, comes with the potential for health risks. It can weaken the lungs and increase heart rate. It can also affect brain development in adolescents. Some research indicates its effects on thinking and memory may last a long time or even be permanent. A number of studies have linked chronic marijuana use and mental illness (sources: drugabuse.gov and whitehouse.gov).
Do students use prescription drugs to help them study?
The vast majority of college students do not abuse prescription drugs. However, some students abuse stimulants, like Adderall or Ritalin (used to treat attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder) to help them concentrate and stay up all night studying. But it doesn't work and it's dangerous. Studies show that people who abuse stimulants typically don't do better in school (source: insidehighered.com).
It's pretty safe to drive after smoking marijuana, right?
The key ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, affects coordination, reaction times, and judgment. Data from several studies has found that marijuana use more than doubles a driver's risk of being in an accident. Combining marijuana and alcohol further increases risk.
How dangerous can prescriptions really be? They're legal.
The bottom line is that taking a prescription (e.g. Vicodin, Xanax, Adderall) that is not yours is not only illegal, it's dangerous. Side effects can include everything from vomiting and mood changes to difficulty breathing, a slowed heartbeat, and even addiction or possibly death. Dangers are more severe when prescriptions are taken along with other substances, such as alcohol (source: kidshealth.org).