You may or may not be surprised to learn how many students across college campuses have the perception that marijuana is a safe, natural recreational drug. According to a recent study by the University of Michigan, there is a 20 percent increase in the perception that regular marijuana use is acceptable and not a danger to health. The study also reported that at least 1 in 17 college students are now using marijuana on a daily basis. That means that 1 in 17 students is attempting to attend college-level classes and perform competitively while using marijuana daily.
I frequently meet and speak with parents after they discover this reality, and they are understandably upset to learn their hard-earned income is going to support a student that is apparently less than serious about his or her education. Moreover, they are often fearful of the levels of anxiety, depression and, in some cases, psychosis this “recreational” drug has created in their child.
There is no mistaking the dangers of marijuana, let alone the impact it can have on a developing brain. There is also a considerable amount of evidence indicating the physical dangers. The smoke from marijuana contains 50 to 70 percent more cancer causing substances than tobacco. And if you are using the now popular vape pen, you are increasing those rates significantly. In a research study that compared cigarettes to marijuana, it found that a single cannabis joint could cause as much damage to the lungs as up to five regular cigarettes smoked one after another.
The more serious issues that present clinically are those that impact the brain. There are many studies that link years of heavy marijuana use to brain abnormalities. Most compelling are nine different studies that have followed hundreds to thousands of people for decades, looking for a connection between marijuana use and psychosis or schizophrenia. All but one of the studies found a correlation.
The reality is that most individuals won’t develop schizophrenia unless there is a genetic vulnerability that is triggered. However, I have personally treated at least half a dozen young adults that have had a full-blown psychotic or schizophrenic break due to marijuana use.
Most college students are stressed, juggling new adult responsibilities and classes. To relieve that stress they turn to pot, but they do not fully realize the effects of marijuana use.
Realizing this, parents need to recognize the importance of teaching teens how to manage stress. Part of that learning should include understanding steps to help balance daily life demands more appropriately through healthy strategies, rather than using medication treatments and recreational substances.
By // Dr. Lisa Strohman, JD, Ph.D.