We all know that college is a time to experiment – it’s likely the first time away from home, with no one telling you what to do, when to go to bed or to wait until you’ve had dinner before digging into dessert. Apparently, it is now also the place young adults are most likely to try cannabis for the first time – in fact, those who are enrolled in college are twice as likely as their non-student peers to try cannabis at all.
“College is a time when there’s no parental supervision, there’s lots of free time, there’s often a party culture, and so these things can promote experimentation with drugs,” Miech said.
Roughly 1 in 10 people ages 19-22 who are working and living on their own are first-time cannabis users, whereas roughly 1 in 5 people (double) who are attending classes in that same age group were likely to give it a try. Whether this is because there is more opportunity while being a student (parties are plentiful and it’s become a popular way for people to self-medicate for general anxiety, and college is certainly a stressful time for anyone), or because young adults in college are more likely to indulge in recreational activities like smoking marijuana and drinking is unclear.
“I think what’s happening is that people are beginning to see marijuana more like alcohol – that it’s something you can do recreationally and that there’s not much immediate harm from it,” he said.
What is clear, however, is the fact that more and more young people are seeing cannabis as socially acceptable – and consider recreational use to be something as normal as drinking. It also appears that the more honest views on cannabis (legal states especially are leaning towards the truth rather than scare tactics to keep teens from using cannabis) could be contributing to this trend, as well as the significantly lower number of high school students using marijuana.
“What I’m tempted to infer from this is that what may be happening is that kids are starting marijuana use later, holding off until college experimentation that might have taken place in high school during previous decades,” Clarkin said.
The study took a look over the last few decades, from 1977 until 2015 – but the most significant jump in first-time cannabis use for college students has been in the past few years. In 2013, just four years ago, only 31% of college students reported first-time marijuana use, in 2014 that increased by 10%, and in 2015 it jumped another 10% – ending with 51% of students reporting trying cannabis fro the first time. With more and more states moving towards more sensible cannabis policies, we’re likely to see this sort of trend continue.