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Marijuana, derived from the hemp plant, is a mind-altering drug that is most frequently smoked as a cigarette or blunt, or in a pipe or bong. Following a decade of decline in the 1980s, the use of marijuana among all youth – including college students – rose in the 1990s. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in 2003:

  • 50.7 percent of college students reported using marijuana at least once during their lifetime
  • 33.7 percent of college students reported marijuana use in the past year
  • 19.3 percent reported marijuana use in the past month
Prevention officials are particularly concerned because marijuana may act as a "gateway" drug, serving as an introduction to the drug scene and use of additional types of drugs.

Marijuana is seen by some college students as a "recreational" drug that serves as a rite of passage from adolescence into adulthood. Just as with the use of alcohol, this dangerous perception fails to acknowledge the potential dangers of marijuana use. Too many students don’t realize that marijuana can be addictive. Frequent marijuana use may be physically and psychologically harmful, and can cause a host of social and behavioral problems. In fact, according to the ONDCP, marijuana accounted for almost 120,000 emergency room visits in 2002.

Consequences of marijuana use include:
  • impaired memory and learning
  • depression and anxiety
  • loss of coordination
  • frequent respiratory infections
  • increased risk of heart attack
  • lung or respiratory tract cancer
  • \impaired immune system
  • complications in pregnancy
  • increased tolerance for the drug
Students who use marijuana are also much more likely than their peers who abstain to engage in other high-risk behaviors such as heavy drinking and cigarette smoking. Moreover, heavy marijuana users may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level all of the time, leading to lower grades and increased drop-out rates. According to An Open Letter to Parents issued by the ONDCP and endorsed by The American Academy of Family Physicians, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and the Center for College Health and Safety, among others, marijuana use can jeopardize a student’s chances of success. The letter states that heavy use can impair students’ ability to concentrate and retain information, and that students with an average grade of “D” or lower are four times more likely to have used marijuana in the past twelve months than students who earn an average grade of “A.”

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