Marijuana Use Linked to Academic Problems

By McCarton Ackerman 06/07/13

A study finds that consistent pot use by students leads to lower attendance, grades and IQs.

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Marijuana may have various health benefits, but it can also take its toll on "higher" education. A new report from The University of Maryland School of Public Health showed that consistent marijuana use negatively affected the academic retention and performance of students. The study, which followed 1,200 college freshman over a 10-year period, found that substance use and "especially marijuana use" contributed to "college students skipping more classes, spending less time studying, earning lower grades, dropping out of college, and being unemployed after college." Early and chronic use of marijuana also lowered the IQ of users by as much as eight points. "It's not rocket science, this stuff has been known for quite some time," says Amelia Arria, director for the Center on Young Adult Health and Development. "[But] it's really the first time that such an intense look at the health-risk behaviors of college students has been linked to the post-college functioning." All participants in the study who used marijuana consistently—ranging from minimal to heavy use—showed negative effects as a result. Those who smoked 15 or more times a month were "twice as likely" to experience discontinuous enrollment than minimal users, but even "infrequent" users who smoked twice a month were 66% more likely than minimal users to be discontinuously enrolled. "I don't really think people are putting [marijuana use] together with the possible effect it could have on long-term success," says Arria. "It's something people really need to consider."

In addition to its impact on academic performance, marijuana use can have legal ramifications for students. Under a provision of the Higher Education Act, students who have been convicted of a drug charge—even minor marijuana offenses—are ineligible for federal financial aid, loans or work-study. "200,000 college students have been denied financial aid because of a drug arrest or minor drug offense," says Aaron Houston, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "Unfortunately, I think there is still a stigma that drug warriors very actively try to keep alive that leads to societal disapproval in certain instances." A survey found that a third of all college students used marijuana at least once in 2011.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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