New perspectives: Marijuana use by students

The topic of marijuana has been debated recently as Michigan has legalized use of the drug for adults over the age of 21. The Anchor has published articles on drug use (see “To weed or not to weed: that is the question,” by Ruth Holloway and “CBD: The mystery drug” by Isabella Lemus on the Anchor’s website), and many people have debated the pros and cons of legalization, but no one has really explored the perspective of Hope College students who recreationally use marijuana. I had the privilege to hear from some students, who will remain anonymous, about their use of marijuana.

Hope’s drug and alcohol policy states that “Hope College is committed to the elimination of drug and/or alcohol misuse and abuse and forbids the use, possession or transfer of illegal drugs and alcohol in the workplace and in all learning environments.” This policy extends to all forms of alcohol and marijuana, along with many other forms of drugs, and has very few exceptions. The students discussed here use recreational marijuana off campus.

In the below questions, I use the term “smoke” as a generic term for getting high, regardless of the method used, unless otherwise noted. 

How often do you smoke? How many times a day or week?

“Every day. Too many times to count,” one student joked. The rest replied similarly: “Every day, at least once a day. Sometimes more.” On the other hand, a female separate to the other group of students I interviewed replied, “Once or twice a month, depending on when opportunities arise.” 

Do you smoke in a group or alone, or one more than the other? What do you like about either experience?

Everyone who I asked indicated they like to smoke in a group: “Group. I like the social aspect of it. It’s a way to decompress for the day, and I feel like some of my best conversations happen with people that I’m smoking with,” one student said, with several others agreeing.When I asked if he smoked alone, he replied, “Yes, but rarely. I don’t do it very often. I haven’t taken a break in a long time, but I probably should.” Some of the other students said they almost never smoke alone: “I just like being around people who say some weird ideas and things. It’s fun to bounce off things; it’s kinda fun to see it. It’s a safe space to talk about stuff.” 

Another student was more specific about his mental state when wanting to smoke in a group or alone: “Depending if I’m super stressed about school, I’m way better alone. I just get to think and don’t have to talk to people, just care for myself. I’m not trying to get messed up, just getting high to get high.”  

Do you feel that you could stop if you wanted to? Would it be hard? 

Many people compare marijuana and alcohol, and in terms of addiction, alcohol is physically addictive, while marijuana is not. Alcoholism is a physical, chronic disease characterized by a physical dependence on and preoccupation with drinking and manifests with withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is taken away. On the other hand, no “marijuanaism” exists. Marijuana does not create a physical dependence and is not addictive in the way that alcohol is. Marijuana can also be prescribed medically to help with pain and mental health conditions, while alcohol is not prescribed medically. 

Many of the students I spoke with felt that they could take a break if they wanted to: “Yes. If I want to [take a break I could]. The last time I took a break was fall break. It wasn’t too bad; it was actually really good.” Another student wasn’t sure how they would handle a break: “I haven’t really had a reason to take a break. So I don’t know if I would have a hard time or not.” 

One student told me that sleeping issues were “mainly why I don’t stop. Especially if I go two or three days, it’s not worth not sleeping, so I start smoking at night or whatever.” Another student found that he sometimes had a hard time falling asleep when he didn’t smoke before bed, “but only for the first day or two, and then I can fall asleep normally. It takes a couple days for my body to realize it.”

Several of the people I talked to mentioned that they smoke to help with sleep: “That’s why I started smoking. It’s because I was medicated for sleep and my sedative didn’t put me to sleep anymore. Smoking has worked for me every time.” Another student chimed in: “I don’t have a sleep disorder, but it does help me sleep, and that’s why I started using it, too. And when I don’t use it, I just can’t sleep sometimes. 

Do you prefer smoking or drinking? Why? 

The students had several different responses to this question. One suggested, “I don’t know if I can choose one or the other. For the sake of the ‘what if,’ let’s change the question to if I could only smoke or only drink for the rest of my life, what would I choose? Drinking. I see myself as an adult wanting to be able to go to a bar and have drinks with my wife or friends rather than be able to smoke because I feel like when I get older, there aren’t going to be as many opportunities to smoke with a group of people. There will be way more opportunities to drink with other people.”

A different student had a much simpler answer, saying, “Yes, I prefer smoking to drinking. It’s about health reasons, mental and physical health. It’s safer; it’s more relaxing for me. I know I won’t overdo it.” Another couldn’t decide: “Sometimes I like to get drunk; it’s a different feeling,.It’s kinda nice, but … sometimes I just don’t want to be so messed up that I don’t know where I am.” 

I asked one student about his plans to use marijuana as he gets older: “It depends on my job. If I have a [drug] test I will not be smoking. I’m not going to risk my future for it.” This student also mentioned that he would be comfortable smoking with his future children “for legal reasons, when they’re of age. When they’re legal to smoke.”

Have you ever smoked too much? Explain the experience. 

Smoking too much also differs drastically from the physical effects of drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning, while marijuana does not have this detrimental effect. One student explained his experience: “When I was too high I didn’t totally know what was going on, and I didn’t totally feel connected with my body. It was scary. It’s not a good feeling. I didn’t feel sick. In my first bad experience I was sort of nauseous, but it was more like scared because I didn’t totally know what was going on.”

Most of the students I interviewed mentioned they had only had one or two bad experiences smoking. “Only once,” one student said, “because it was one of the first times I had smoked, and I smoked too much without knowing it, and then it became too much.” Another student laughed and said, “Oh, yeah. I thought I was on a rollercoaster in my leg. It just gets your mind so …there’s just some places you don’t want to navigate to. And smoking too much will bring you there.”

Another student described a much more pleasant experience: “I was just floating. That’s what it felt like. Like I couldn’t come down or control it, but I wasn’t freaking out. It was just natural. I just didn’t want to be floating at that moment.” A student shared an experience about getting too high off edibles: “Smoking too much, I felt like I could still move, but with edibles I literally just felt like I was couch-locked.”

How have your smoking habits changed now that weed has been legalized? 

Every student I interviewed said there was no change in the amount of weed they consumed (in whatever form) from before to after the legalization of marijuana. One student did mention that “I smoke the same amount but I am smarter about where I buy from. I don’t want black market cartridges.” 

What is your favorite part about smoking? 

The primary favored part of smoking for the students I interviewed was the “community aspect. There is a group of us who like to smoke together and that almost becomes a routine to have that time … that and being able to sleep and relax, clear your mind.”

Another student said, “The social aspect. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had, the conversations that I remember most, are conversations when I’m with a bunch of people just being high.” This student also told me that he felt he had conversations where he could say anything and not be judged. “Some things come up more often when you’re high than when you’re sober; they kinda just pop out of nowhere. I feel like it’s a really good way to open up a group of people’s minds.”

Another student said that their favorite part about smoking is “being relaxed and the [stuff] that I learn from it. I feel very much that weed allows my brain to go places that it normally wouldn’t. I learn a lot about myself and a lot of logical thinking.”

What is your preferred method of getting high? Do you notice a difference in high between different kinds of weed and / or methods? How do you feel about edibles?

There are many different ways to get high, ranging from smoking to vaporizing to directly consuming THC. Several of the methods mentioned below are pictured in the top right diagram, which includes joints, blunts, spliffs, a bong and dabs. Not pictured is the popular “cartridge,” which contains cannabis oil and can be used with a vape pen to heat and smoke. These cartridges were linked with deaths earlier this year, which is why many of the students interviewed expressed caution about using cartridges. There are also pens that can be used to smoke dabs or wax. Edibles, which are usually made by putting THC-infused butter or oil into different foods like cookies, brownies or chocolates, are pictured in the lower right. Other edibles include beverages like tea, which are typically highly concentrated and can be diluted for a more enjoyable drink experience.  Smoking marijuana usually gives an instant high, while eating an edible can take anywhere from an hour to longer for the high to kick in as the THC is ingested.

The students had a range of different preferred methods, but interestingly many thought that their preference was the “cleanest” way to smoke, despite being different from one another. “Bong. Reason? It gets me the most high. It’s the cleanest high for me,” one student said. When touching on the different methods of getting high, he said there was no difference “with the feeling of being high, but the experience of getting high is different. If I had a blunt and a bong in front of me and someone said I could only hit one, I would hit the bong. It feels cleaner. But I still love a good blunt.” In comparison, another student said, “Absolutely [the highs between different methods are different]. It’s the same thing as alcohol.”

A different student liked dabs.“Based on my neurochemistry, dabs just mellow me out. For other people, it gets them in a weird way,” he said. Correspondingly, another student said, “[Cannabis] bud. A clean bowl and bong is the preferred method. Dabs mess me up for a longer time than bud does. It is more intense and a longer high.” In comparison, another student said, “Joint. Just because it’s the cleanest compared to a blunt, but I also like glass like bongs. But if I had to pick, probably joint.” 

All of the students agreed that with “cartridges you need to be careful and make sure you’re smoking the right stuff. If you get a bad cart[ridge], it can be dangerous to your health. But they are useful, and they come in handy a lot.” 

When I asked about edibles, the students often responded with laughter. One student “never had one,” but another student said “I love edibles; they’re are a great time. [Do I] prefer [them]? No. It’s a way longer period of time for you to get high, and sometimes it can be more intense, so you kinda have to deal with that, and I don’t really have a lot of time for that.

I like them; I just think that they’re expensive. Why would I spend $20 on an edible that would get me high for one night when I could spend $20 on weed and get high for a couple days?”

A common viewpoint on edibles is that they get you too high. One student said, “Edibles are fun but if you’re not very experienced with weed, you might not know what you’re doing with edibles, and they can sneak up on you. There are so many stories out there where people take edibles and it won’t hit them, so they decide to take more and then all of a sudden it will hit them, and they’ll get way too high. Just be conscious of how many mgs of THC you’re intaking and be smart. They’re fun and easy.”

What do you like to do when you’re high? Why? 

Several of the students I interviewed agreed that they liked to play video games while they are high. “COD [Call of Duty], but I’m bad at it. ‘Rick and Morty’ is awesome when you’re high.” Another student responded “I just feel like I’m better when I’m high [at COD]. I feel like marijuana works on my mind, and when my mind’s in that state when I play the video game, it adds a different effect to the game which is fun. It’s another fun effect. I feel like I get more into it. I’m more focused. You become one with the video game. If I’m playing COD, I’m way more into it. You just kinda read and react.”

Some of the students liked other things. “Probably watching sports, like basketball,” one said. Another mentioned, “I love to watch movies when I’m high. Or ‘Planet Earth,’ the detail is amazing.”

What is your advice to someone who has never been high before about being high or about what being high is like?

One student said, “You’ll hear a lot of different things and you won’t ever really know what it feels like until you actually do it. It’s kind of unexplainable and you kinda feel a little spacey. Getting high now is different from when I was first getting high. Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to ruin being high by smoking one time and smoke way too much and never want to get high again. You’d rather smoke a little and be like ‘oh this is kinda fun; I could do that again.’     

Another said, “Do it with people who have done a lot of marijuana and people you trust who won’t get you too high or have stuff in their weed. Do it with people you know, and start at a low dosage and work your way up.”

 



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