Buzzed – 420 Marijuana Use and College Students

SmokinSince today is 4/20 it seems fitting for a Buzzed article on marijuana and college students. Whatever way you say it 420, or 4:20 or 4/20, it has become a counterculture code word for marijuana use. First for those who may not be aware of the origins of 420 a little history.

What is the origin of 4/20, 420 or 4:20?

One explanation of the origin of the term stems from a story about a group of six teenagers at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, United States in 1971. The teens would meet after school at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana at the Louis Pasteur statue. The exact time was chosen because that was the time that afternoon detention was dismissed. From there it spread through the Grateful Dead underground until it was published in High Times magazine where it received worldwide exposure making it an internationally recognized “holiday” where people gather to celebrate and consume cannabis.

Other notable events occurring on 4/20 include the anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy and the birthday of Adolf Hitler. Those two events were connected, but there is no known connection to the 4/20 marijuana celebration.

Studies, Bias and Facts

There have been a lot of studies over the years on the effect of marijuana use. Some studies are biased either pro or con depending on who did the study. Do you think a marijuana advocate group is going to produce a negative study?

Unlike the undeniable facts of alcohol on college grades (read the article “Buzzed – Alcohol and Academics Don’t Mix Well”), the facts surrounding the use of marijuana are clouded but unbiased research does give us some facts.

  • Fact: Marijuana is the 2nd most used drug among college students behind alcohol.
  • Fact: A misdemeanor marijuana conviction, which could come for possessing one joint, may cost someone college loans, the ability to join the military or get a job and driver’s license.
  • Fact: students who use marijuana frequently may function at a limited intellectual level at all times—that is, even when not under the influence of the drug—contributing to lower grades and an increased risk for dropping out of college.
  • Fact: A Harvard study associates factors of marijuana use include spending larger amounts of time at parties and socializing, spending less time studying. Often this lifestyle is the key factor in poor academic performance.
  • Fact: Long-term use may lead to “amotivational syndrome”. This is where users are extremely unmotivated in their lives and their achievement of academic, career, and personal goals.
  • Fact: The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Approximately 47.5% of college students and 56.7% of young adults (ages 19–28) surveyed in 2007 reported use of marijuana in their lifetime.
  • Fact: Regular heavy marijuana use compromises the ability to learn and remember information primarily by impairing the ability to focus, sustain, and shift attention.
  • Fact: The money you spend on marijuana is money you don’t have to spend for other things. College students are on a tight budget and that money could go for things you need or improving your lifestyle.
  • Fact: Research has revealed some people have an “addiction gene”. While there is no solid proof that marijuana use leads to stronger drugs, those with the addiction gene are more likely to become addicted to any drug.
  • Fact: Marijuana works by stimulating neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. Activation of these “pleasure centers” is why people smoke it. Long term use can damage these parts of the brain and can also inhibit the brains ability to produce the natural “feel good” reward chemical dopamine that is associated with joy and happiness. For some this effect is permanent, even if they quit using marijuana.

How Marijuana Works

Marijuana-use The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The membranes of certain nerve cells in the brain contain protein receptors that bind to THC. Once securely in place, THC kicks off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the high that users experience. When someone smokes marijuana, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. This carries the chemical to organs throughout the body, including the brain.

Once it enters the brain, THC connects to specific sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and influences the activity of those cells. Some brain areas have many cannabinoid receptors; others have few or none. Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence memory, pleasure, concentration, thought, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. THC alters the way information is processed by the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory formation. This leads to the damage to short-term memory that users often experience.

Effect on Health

  • Marijuana abuse is associated with many detrimental health effects. These effects can include respiratory illnesses, problems with learning and memory, increased heart rate, and impaired coordination. A number of studies have also shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and schizophrenia.
  • Marijuana has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.
  • A study of college students found that among heavy users of marijuana critical skills related to attention, memory, and learning were significantly impaired, even after they had not used the drug for at least 24 hours.
  • While studies show a low probability of physical addition, they do show a high probability of psychological dependence. The perception that one does not feel “normal” unless they are high.

Other Health Factors

  • Altered sense of time
  • Decreased reaction time (NOT good while driving)
  • Decreased sperm production in men
  • Disrupted menstrual cycle and inhibition of the discharge of eggs in women
  • Paranoia or increased anxiety

Cognitive Impairment

stoned Research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that college students who used marijuana regularly had impaired skills related to attention, memory, and learning 24 hours after they last used the drug.

Short term effects of marijuana use include memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, and anxiety. Students who use marijuana may find it hard to learn, thus jeopardizing their ability to achieve their full potential.

Another study, conducted at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, found that people who used marijuana frequently (7 or more times weekly for an extended period) showed deficits in mathematical skills and verbal expression, as well as selective impairments in memory retrieval processes. These findings clearly have significant implications for young people, since reductions in cognitive function can lead to poor performance in school.

Other impairments observed in frequent marijuana users involve sensory and time perception and coordinated movement, suggesting use of the drug can adversely affect driving and sports performance.

Amotivational Syndrome

slackerA major problem with marijuana is called amotivational syndrome. Amotivational syndrome depends, in part, on an individual’s genetics, the frequency that they use marijuana, and the amount of THC in the marijuana. In addition, alcohol or other drug use, as well as disturbed, irregular sleep patterns, can also be contributing factors.

In amotivational syndrome an individual basically decreases the frequency of doing things that need to be done, that they don’t particularly like to do. High on the list are early classes, subjects or teachers that are unappealing, and tasks that may be non-academically related that the individual simply does not enjoy doing. Activities that a person finds more enjoyable generally tend to persist.

The difficulty, of course, is that there are many things in a college experience that one has to do that are not particularly pleasant. It’s part of achieving an academic degree. Amotivational syndrome not only can create problems in grades and time to degree, but also can create difficulty with financial aid money because of rules and regulations regarding GPA and credits earned.

If an individual finds himself or herself doing less of what they don’t like to do but need to do, it may be time to see either a counselor/psychologist or a physician on campus. Of course, the best thing you can do is to stop using marijuana. This is sometimes difficult because of the rituals and friendships that are involved in marijuana use. In these situations it is important to be honest with yourself and your friends and let them know the difficulty you are having.

Important parts of your future may ride on your willingness to confront the problem and change a behavior pattern. For most individuals with amotivational syndrome discontinued use of marijuana and basic behaviors, such as eating, sleeping, and exercising in appropriate fashions seems to make a real significant difference.

Conclusion Is It Worth The Risk?

Which Way Will You Go?

Which Way Will You Go?

The clutter of messages about marijuana in popular culture creates an atmosphere of confusion and sends mixed signals about the drug. On students’ academic success, frequent marijuana use can affect students’ concentration and ability to retain information. These factors are the basis for learning and is this not what college is about?

A conviction for possession of marijuana could lead to the loss of college loans which for most college students would mean the end of their college career. A felony conviction for marijuana will follow you for the rest of your life since employers do background checks, possibly limiting your chances of ever obtaining a career building job.

Significant medical research proves a direct link between marijuana use and impaired attention, impaired memory, motivation, lower intellectual levels, all key factors in education.

Conviction for DWI with marijuana carries the same penalties as DWI with alcohol.

graduate You may say to yourself “That won’t happen to me” or “My grades are good”. What you have to ask yourself is it worth the risk? Consider the thousands of dollars invested in your college education that could go up in smoke. Consider the long term consequences in your life of the lack of a college education. Your hopes and dreams gone.

You can find hundreds of posts and articles on the Internet disputing these facts. Usually they are written by people who support marijuana use so they have a bias. Some claim they smoke marijuana and do just fine in college.

But what if they are busted and loose their financial aid? Right now physically they may be fine, but by the time they begin to experience the long term effects, it may be too late to reverse them.

One of the claims of proponents of marijuana use is that it is harmless. Just consider these facts and determine if marijuana use is worth the risk it brings versus the “reward” it offers. If you want a good college education and a good career, marijuana use has the potential to do a great deal of harm. Is it worth the risk to the rest of your life?


  1. LibertynJustice4ALL says:

    This is the most ignorant “reefer madness” article I’ve seen in a so called “Newspaper” in the past few years. This article looks like its part of the ONDCP new program model to Prevent Alcohol and Other Drug Use on College Campuses.
    To get colleges to spread Big Brother’s message the U.S. Department of Education awarded millions each year to institutions of higher education in recognition of their programs. The schools are required to launch a media campaign to spread information (or disinformation such as this) to students to convince them to do as the are told.

    “A conviction for possession of marijuana could lead to the loss of college loans which for most college students would mean the end of their college career.”
    Way to threaten a student! “IF THE DRUG DOESN’T HURT YOU, WE WILL!”

    So what causes more damage to the students, smoking a joint or trying to trash a persons life because they smoked a joint?

    According to ONDCP own data 40% of University Student use cannabis. So lets get real, this country can not enforce is hypocritical law, it would destroy not only our university system but the economy of this once proud hemp growing nation.

    How dare you assume the students at one of the best research universities in this country would blindly swallow this junk! A University with its own medical plant garden at that! Jeez!

    Patent # 6630507
    Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants
    Issued: Oct. 2003
    Owned by: The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services
    “Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”


    Just in case the anonymous author of this article is to slow to get the literary references, it’s George Orwell’s 1984. Which is right where is kind of doublethink is going to get us.

    To UNC Charlotte: I hope the money you got for this was worth the loss of respect from 40% or so of your students!

    • Thanks for your comment. It is obvious you have strong feelings so I thought I would re-post for 4/20/10 (this was originally posted April 20, 2009).

      To correct your misconceptions, this is a blog not a newspaper. The UNC Charlotte newspaper is the University Times. A fine publication, follow this link to NinerOnline the online version, and it is not connected to this blog. Nor is this blog is in any way officially affiliated with UNC Charlotte.

      “A conviction for possession of marijuana could lead to the loss of college loans which for most college students would mean the end of their college career.” Way to threaten a student! “IF THE DRUG DOESN’T HURT YOU, WE WILL!”.

      From the FAFSA website under eligibility: “Not have a drug conviction for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, loans, or work-study).” It is a fact which was the point made.

      “one of the best research universities in this country”. Most of the facts in this post came from some of the best research universities in the country.

      “it’s George Orwell’s 1984”, well paranoia is one of the side-effects of marijuana use.

      “40% or so of your students!”. Hopefully if those 40% (disputable considering your source is the ONDCP) of college students read this post they will come to the conclusion their college education and all of the benefits it carries is not worth the risk. Which was the point of the post.

      On another issue…

      On March 14th UNC Charlotte hosted state Rep. Nick Mackey to discuss a bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana, but with a twist. The twist being the bill would allow the state of North Carolina would “license” growers with an estimated 60 million per year in tax revenue. Leave it to the state of North Carolina to find a way to get their share and drive up the cost to patients who would benefit from medical marijuana. It makes me wonder if they truly care for the people who could benefit from medical marijuana or if they are just looking for another source of revenue. You know, stick it to the sick people since I am sure the costs would be passed along to the consumer.

      I advocate the use of medical marijuana for legitimate medical reasons. The evidence is indisputable that many people would benefit from it. However don’t confuse the issues. This post was about marijuana use by college students and the risks it carries. Too often people throw in the medical marijuana card to support their recreational use. Just like many other drugs marijuana has negative side-effects. Ever listen to the ads for drugs on TV? The “possible side-effects” often sound worse than what the drug treats.

  2. College Student says:

    It feels like moms all over America wrote this. I’m not even a smoker but i felt like i was being lectured. FAIL

  3. Wh0AreYoU says:

    Im a 20 yr old guy and in college and I finished my basics in 2 semesters and didnt start to smoke marijuana until after the second semester while on vacations(this summer).I used it just about everyday only at night times and it really helped me out with my mild depression and some anxiety issues I was having so I kept on using it. I would inhale the Thc vapors through a vaporizer that I bought online. So the summer ended and I am now in my first semester of my major and I kept on using the stuff every night until I noticed that my grades were dropping and I hardly knew any of the stuff that was on daily quizes and tests so I decided to stop after using it for about the first 3-4 weeks in my major. I was basically just high everyday even though I would use it night times only and had a sense of well being and it really did help with my anxiety/depression but after quitting I realized that it was all an illusion and was just making me think I was “confident” while it really was affecting my learning. i stopped using it,my concentration improved and I began to study more and pass quizes/tests and am now planing on using it only 3 times a week cus my problems came back to haunt me. I am also on financial aid probation meaning I have to pass just about all of my classes(4) but I can still fail 1 class and get away with it in order to receive finacial aid next semester. My financial aid probation is because I dropped a few classes already last semester and this semester but not because I got caught using marijuana. Still haven’t got caught and am hoping I won’t. Good luck to anyone who smokes and is in school.