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October 21, 2014

A Two Edged Sword: Marijuana Use and College Students

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Marijuana is the second most frequent drug used by college students (alcohol, of course, is first). Like alcohol, occasional and infrequent marijuana use seems to have limited negative effects on college students who are users. The difficulty lies in the difference between a statistical and a personal model. If you are an individual who is being negatively affected by marijuana use, then all the statistics in the world make no difference to you. There is increasing research on annecdotal information to indicate that even occasional marijuana users and those who increase their amounts are becoming prone to anxiety disorders and panic attacks. This is called a paradoxical response.

Individuals who experience anxiety or panic when using marijuana need to stop use immediately. If the symptoms persist, it is extremely helpful to make an appointment with a counselor/psychologist or a physician at your university. The problem with panic attacks and anxiety is that they have the effect of "bruising" your nervous system. It takes time for the bruising to heal and, therefore, the symptoms may continue for a period of time. (Aftershocks) Understand and acknowledging the symptoms, will be helpful in the recovery process. In other words, do not panic over your drug induced panic attacks or anxiety. Most individuals report that once they experience these symptoms that any reuse of marijuana causes the symptoms to increase again.

A second 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, but that they don't particularly like to do. High on the list are early classes, subjects or teachers that are unappealing, 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 your 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 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.

If either anxiety, or panic attacks or amotivational syndrome is something you are concerned about, again consider talking with a member of your Counseling Center staff or Health Service staff at your university.