Some students say no, science says yes
In the weeks leading to CU’s infamous 4/20 events, staff writer Rob Ryan explores the culture behind marijuana use among students. His three-part series begins today and ends with comprehensive coverage on April 20.
Pot smoking could be a synonym for Boulder.
CU ranks No. 15 on the Princeton Review’s list of colleges with the highest use of pot among students. But when asked whether smoking pot is bad for them or not, there appears to be no easy answer.
The typical student will probably give one of two responses: either it’s really not that bad at all, or it only affects certain people.
“I don’t think it messes with your physical health,” said Chris Tobin, a sophomore finance and economics major.
Tobin, like almost everyone at CU, said he knows students that smoke pot, some as often as three or four times a day.
He did say he does not see these students going to class very often, but he couldn’t say whether the fact that they smoked had a direct impact on their study habits.
This is a contrast to what those who study marijuana think about its effects. Jack Lavino, the Coordinator of the Center for Students in Recovery at CU, said that marijuana can have a big impact on students over a long enough time frame.
“Persistent use over time affects their ability to learn,” Lavino said. “Over time, they lose their ability to think rationally.”
Lavino has also worked in a private practice in Boulder for the past 12 years and said he’s seen marijuana users’ grade point averages go up a whole point once they stopped smoking.
He also said he’s treated people who have smoked pot for 15 to 20 years, and that marijuana has definitely affected them.
“They can’t put two sentences together,” Lavino said.
A large body of research seems to support Lavino’s claims. A 2005 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana use can impair memory, coordination and balance, and can cause respiratory problems similar to those of tobacco smokers.
A similar study in the March 6, 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association also addresses the effects of chronic marijuana use.
The study compared 102 marijuana users to 33 non-users and concluded that, “long-term heavy cannabis users show impairments in memory and attention that endure beyond the period of intoxication and worsen with increasing years of regular cannabis use.”
These are just a few of the studies on the effects of marijuana use from the past few years. However, despite this seemingly overwhelming body of evidence, students often take these findings with a grain of salt.
Shea Moore-Farrell, a freshman integrative physiology major, said how pot affects people varies from person to person. Moore-Farrell said that one of his friends recently quit because of how badly it was affecting him.
“He was doing very poorly,” Moore-Farrell said. “He wasn’t very motivated, he was lazy.he just didn’t do the simple things.”
Moore-Farrell said that this was a fairly extreme case, however, and that pot has been overly demonized.
“Smoking anything can’t be good for you, but [marijuana] is not as bad as people make it out to be,” Moore-Farrell said.
Lavino also said that it was difficult to tell exactly how marijuana use was going to affect specific people.
“It really depends on the individual and their brain,” he said.
Matt Mermel, a sophomore international affairs major, said his roommate smokes pot daily and that he hasn’t noticed any huge effects on him.
“He’s a little out of it afterwards, nothing major,” Mermel said.
Mermel said anything can have negative effects on someone if it’s taken too far. As an example, he pointed to students who spend all their time playing video games.
“You can make anything your whole life,” Mermel said.
Another former smoker interviewed for this story, who asked only to be identified as Chris, said many studies are biased because they’re funded by the government.
“You’ve got to look at where (the research) is coming from,” Chris said.
Chris said he smoked marijuana regularly for the past three years, starting in his junior year of high school and said if anything, marijuana might have helped his academic performance.
He tracked his grades along with his marijuana use “just for the hell of it,” and found that he had a 4.0 in his semesters at CU when he smoked the most.
“I can’t think of any big, negative things that have happened from my use in general,” Chris said.
Chris added he felt marijuana had actually had some positive impacts on him. He said it had widened his tastes in music and humor and made him a more tolerant person.
“Assuming somebody is open to it, it can be a positive thing,” he said.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Rob Ryan at email@example.com.