Safer Cannabis Use

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College is often a time of independence and trying new things. It can involve making decisions about cannabis use. Attitudes towards cannabis impact use and are determined by various sources, including perceptions of use while growing up, family, peers, campus culture, and various cultural factors such as nationality and race.

Norms for use are continuing to change rapidly, and there is no way to adequately discuss the cultural significance of cannabis in this brochure, including all the specific cultural factors that could affect your use. Nevertheless, the purpose of this brochure is to provide additional information to help you make an informed choice about your cannabis use, considering both the positive and negative consequences of your use.

Reasons for Use

College students may use cannabis for a variety of reasons. Common reasons students cite for using cannabis include the following:

  • Relax and reduce stress. Most often students use cannabis in order to relax, relieve tension, and reduce their stress levels.
  • Enjoy feeling “high.” Many students use cannabis simply because they enjoy the experience of feeling high.
  • Cope with negative emotions. Students may use cannabis as an attempt to escape from problems, deal with anger, or frustration.
  • Boredom. Students may use cannabis believing they do not have other activities that they want to engage in so they use cannabis as a way of coping with negative feelings.
  • Socialize. College students often use cannabis as part of a social activity.
  • Experimentation. Cannabis is often easily accessible and college students can be curious to see what it is like.
  • Pain relief. Cannabis is commonly used to treat pain associated with various chronic physical health problems.
  • Creativity. People often think that cannabis use leads to increased creativity.

Consequences of Use

While research on cannabis use is still in its infancy, use is associated with various health consequences, both positive and negative. The nature and severity of cannabis effects depend on various factors, including: the drug (e.g., the strength of the cannabis being used, or whether cannabis is being used alongside of other drugs), the person (e.g., the current mental state of the person, and past history of cannabis use) and the setting (e.g., paranoia occurs more often when using cannabis in isolated environments, compared to using cannabis socially). Consequences for cannabis use have changed considerably over time, especially due to an increase in THC concentration in cannabis. For example, THC concentration from 1975 to 2015 has increased by 1878%.

The following are common short-term effects of cannabis: euphoria, relaxation, anxiety/panic, lightheadedness, increased appetite, cognitive impairments, dry mouth, paranoia, and distorted perception. Common long-term consequences include the following:

  • Respiratory problems. Cannabis has many of the same properties of tobacco smoke. Long-term use can lead to increased risk of lung infections, bronchitis, wheeziness, and shortness of breath.
  • Cancer. Cannabis use is associated with increased risks of cancer of the lung, mouth and throat.
  • Memory and learning issues. Heavy cannabis use is associated with significant damage to parts of the brain that regulate learning and memory, and these issues can impact academic performance.
  • Sleep. While cannabis can sometimes be used for treating insomnia (i.e., to help a person get to sleep), use is associated with inhibition during the most important stage of sleep (REM sleep).
  • Pain management. Research indicates that cannabis is associated with decreased levels of pain for various chronic health conditions (e.g., Crohn’s Disease, or epilepsy).
  • Anxiety/depression. Research of cannabis and anxiety is complex; indicating cannabis use is associated with increased anxiety, or decreased anxiety depending on the circumstances. Research indicates cannabis use has a moderate to high association with depressive disorders, especially Major Depressive Disorder. In particular, cannabis use is associated with decreased motivation, a lack of interest in everyday activities, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Psychosis. Cannabis can increase the likelihood of experiencing psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions.
  • Dependence. Cannabis can be psychologically and physiologically addictive. Signs of dependence include the perceived need to use cannabis to cope with everyday tasks, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms (e.g., anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and decreased appetite).

Warning Signs

The following are some important questions to ask yourself when considering if your (or a friend’s) cannabis use could be a problem:

  • Preoccupation. Do you tend to think about your cannabis use often? Do you regularly disengage from activities that do not involve cannabis?
  • Ignoring risks. Does your use continue despite causing academic, financial, or health problems?
  • Neglecting responsibilities. Do you tend to ignore academic work, skip class, or miss other appointments due to cannabis use?
  • Distraction. Do you avoid engaging in cannabis-free activities that you would like to attend due to cannabis use?
  • Denial and minimizing. Do you tend to downplay the negative consequences of cannabis use in your life?
  • Loss of control. Do you use cannabis for a longer time-period than you intended to? Do you have a desire to reduce the amount of cannabis used but are not able to?Tolerance. Do you need more and more cannabis over time to
    get the desired effect?
    Withdrawal. Do you tend to experience significant negative symptoms (e.g., anxiety, or irritability) after a considerable time not using cannabis?

Strategies for Managing Use

If you believe that your (or a friend’s) cannabis use may be a problem, there are many ways to begin making changes:

  • Make a plan. Set limits about how much and how often you use cannabis.
  • Take a break. Abstain from cannabis for a short time to help create increased awareness about the benefits of not using.
  • Engage in self-care. If you are using cannabis in order to relax or deal with stressors, consider doing different self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, breathing exercises, or walking.
  • Participate in drug-free activities. Many activities do not involve cannabis or other drugs, such as being involved with a student organization, or volunteering.
  • Be knowledgeable about campus policies. Alongside of state or national laws, it is also important to consider the policies at your university regarding cannabis use, which varies between
  • each campus.
  • Get support. When considering making changes it is helpful to have someone to talk to who can offer understanding and accountability. Build a network of support that could include friends, family, self-help groups, and/or professional counselors.

Arria, A. M., Caldeira, K. M., Bugbee, B. A., Vincent, K. B., & O’Grady, K. E. (2015). The academic consequences of cannabis use during college. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(3), 564-575.

Hari, J. (2015). Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong. Ted Talk:

Lev-Ran, S., Roerecke, M., Le Foll, B., George, T. P., McKenzie, K., & Rehm, J. (2014). The association between cannabis use and depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal
studies. Psychological Medicine, 44(4), 797-810. doi: S0033291713001438

Memedovich, K. A., Dowsett, L. E., Spackman, E., Noseworthy, T., & Clement, F. (2018). The adverse health effects and harms related to cannabis use: an overview review. CMAJ open, 6(3), E339–E346.

American College Health Association (ACHA):

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):