How Does Marijuana Use at Westminster Compare to Rising National Rates Among College Students?
BY COURTNEY GALLAGHER
A recent study revealed that smoking pot is on the rise among U.S. college students.
Daily marijuana use among college students is at its highest rate in 35 years, according to Monitoring the Future, a national study of ongoing trends in drug use.
The study, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, found daily marijuana use among college students reached 5.9 percent in 2014. That’s a 69 percent increase since 2007 and the highest prevalence observed since 1980, the first year complete data were available on college use.
“This fact does not surprise me,” Mallory Greaves, ’18, said. “I’m not shocked because I know that usage has increased for all ages and has become very active on campus, and even in high school and middle schools.”
At Westminster College, daily marijuana use has fluctuated in recent years and remains lower than the national study’s findings. According to data from the Missouri Health Behavior Study, less than 1 percent of Westminster students reported daily use in 2012. That number increased to 3.7 percent in 2013 but decreased to 2 percent this year.
However, the number of Westminster students who reported using the drug within the past year has increased from 18 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2015. These rates are also lower than the national average: Monitoring the Future reported 34 percent of students said they used marijuana in the past year in 2014.
“So, our overall marijuana usage has gone up,” said Amanda Stevens, a health educator at Westminster. “However, our daily use rates have not gone up, and this is a similar trend within Missouri schools.”
Stevens said the college has used the Missouri Health Behavior Survey for the past seven years to track trends and look at health behavior. Researchers at the University of Missouri collect and analyze data for 21 schools in Missouri, allowing Westminster to compare data among other Missouri schools.
The increase in marijuana use at Westminster and across the country may come from a trend in its perceived risk. Fewer adolescents and young adults view marijuana as dangerous. Of all 19- to 22-year-old high school graduates, 55 percent saw regular marijuana use as dangerous in 2006, while only 35 percent saw it as dangerous in 2014, according to the national study.
The Pew Research Center has reported similar attitudes. A survey conducted in March 2015 found 53 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal, and 68 percent of millennials think marijuana should be legal.
“These substantial declines suggest a possible period effect that may well have been due to the increasing discussion about liberalizing marijuana laws, including for medical use and more recently for recreational use by adults,” noted the authors of Monitoring the Future. “While actual law changes were specific to individual states, the discussions were very prominent nationwide, and we believe likely had a direct effect on perceived risk across the nation.”
Stevens had a similar response to the data.
“With the increase of legalization of use for medical reasons and for recreational purposes in some areas, there is a perception that using marijuana might not be ‘that bad,’” Stevens said, adding, “There has been a lot of media attention towards this and thus more people using/experimenting.”
According to a February 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of Americans believe alcohol is more harmful than marijuana to a person’s health.
Stevens said that it is difficult to compare marijuana and alcohol like this because they are used differently and for different reasons.
“They both affect health,” Stevens said. “They both can negatively impact a college student’s career path.”
Stevens added: “Marijuana use and possession is illegal and can pose legal consequences that can affect the ability to get a job in many areas and can affect financial aid while in college. High-risk alcohol use can also have life-changing unintended consequences. Personally, I hope that college students can weigh the pros and cons of their decisions and choose to make responsible, healthy choices that improve their life. We strive to inspire critical thinkers, and the majority of our students make healthy choices.”