A freshly rolled joint and a Cane’s box combo with extra toast. A magical bong rip and three Taco Bell chicken quesadillas with a large Baja Blast freeze. A 50-milligram edible and a warm brownie with ice cream. A homemade gravity bong and Airheads Xtremes Bites.
These are just a few of the scenes UF students who smoke marijuana are far too familiar with.
College students are using marijuana at historically high levels, according to a 2021 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A significant portion — 44% — of college students reported using marijuana in 2020, compared to 38% in 2015, the study said.
Amie Goodin, an assistant professor at the UF College of Pharmacy and the faculty lead for research strategy within the Consortium for Medical Marijuana Clinical Outcomes Research, studies medical marijuana and tries to answer questions surrounding it: What’s the purpose behind the use? Is there an intention to use it for some kind of medical reason? What is the environment like where a person would use it?
Goodin examines state and national demographics of marijuana use. As of last year, Florida was close to surpassing 800,000 medical marijuana users, Goodin said.
“People overall who are young have tried cannabis more often than previous generations tried cannabis,” she said.
About one in three adults aged 18 to 25 years old reported they have used some type of marijuana product at least once in the last year.
Kat, a 19-year-old UF media production, management and technology and political science freshman who requested the omission of her last name to maximize her chances at a career in public service, said she started using cannabis at 16. She received a medical marijuana card when she became of age and uses it to help with insomnia.
Marijuana has also helped with her academic performance and time management, Kat said.
“It’s helped me slow down my life a lot and organize it so I don't rush through everything,” she said. “It helps me a lot with time management.”
Kat wants to go into international relations, but she plans to be an advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana on the national level, she said.
“For a lot of people who want to smoke, there’s a reason more than just having fun,” she said. “A lot of people have nightmares, or they can’t sleep, or they can’t eat or they eat too much.”
Legalizing marijuana will only make smoking safer, she said.
Classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means there’s no potential for medical use and high possibility of abuse, marijuana has a distinctive history in the United States. In June 1971, Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, naming it public enemy No. 1.
In an October executive order, Biden asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. This could potentially change how cannabis is studied, allowing for more in-depth studies and an expansion of knowledge on the subject, he said.
The War on Drugs is now known as an intentional effort by Nixon to suppress the two groups of people who were against his campaign: “the antiwar left and Black people,” Nixon’s domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman explained to Harper’s Magazine in 1994.
Since Nixon’s presidency, cannabis enthusiasts have fought to reverse the effects, stigmas and policy issues the War on Drugs created.
Most people know the cannabis plant for its THC and CBD properties.
Delta-9 THC is a specific type of THC, although the terms are often used interchangeably. This is the substance that’s Schedule 1 in the U.S. and causes the psychoactive effect of ‘being high.’
Companies sell very slight modifications of delta-9 THC, known as delta-8 or delta-10, which fly under legal radars, but in theory, cause the same effect as delta-9 THC, Goodin said.
CBD is a legal gray area and is permissible in Florida. CBD doesn’t provide the user the same effect as THC, but it may affect moods in other ways. CBD can be found in oils, lotions and gummies, Goodin said.
CBD has U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval as a treatment for seizures. Researchers are studying CBD to see if it can help with swelling and joint pain, according to Goodin.
Hemp and cannabis are the same plant, biologically speaking. Hemp has a lower concentration of delta-9 THC versus the concentration in cannabis, Goodin said.
A 19-year-old UF student-athlete, who requested anonymity as they aim to launch a career in professional sports, said they started smoking heavily in Spring 2022. They weren’t using marijuana to cope with stress, but it definitely helped, they said.
“It improved my life as a whole and just made me happy,” they said. “That boosted my athletic performance and academic performance.”
The student-athlete compared alcohol to marijuana. Alcohol destroys body organs, they said, while marijuana isn’t as hard on the body physically or mentally.
Marijuana has different effects on different people. Some people get hungry or paranoid, while others get giggly or sleepy. Marijuana has a relaxing effect, the student-athlete said.
“I get really giggly, and I get really hungry — but I also get really relaxed,” they said. “I get really open-minded and really down-to-earth and emotional, almost.”
Some students, like a 22-year-old UF business administration senior who requested anonymity as he applies for a master’s degree program, started smoking in the ninth grade and has smoked every day for the past seven years.
He refutes the idea that marijuana makes you lazy, he said.
“I still get everything done,” he said. “All my [stuff] is done on time — never late, never once. So, shut up.”
He has been smoking marijuana for a long time but is starting to feel the effect on his highs and on his body.
“Before sophomore year, it was just really good because I actually enjoyed it. I loved it,” he said. “Now, I kind of do it just to do it.”
He believes marijuana has started to affect his memory. Marijuana affects how the hippocampus, a part of the brain in control of memory formation, processes information, according to NIDA.
“I feel like I just don’t retain information,” he said.
Many UF students use marijuana products to combat anxiety and overthinking. A 21-year-old UF microbiology and cell science junior on the pre-med track who works for UF Health said she started to smoke consistently in Fall 2022 and uses marijuana to ease anxiety.
STEM classes, thoughts of the future and social situations are all anxiety triggers. She said she uses marijuana like a reward system — only smoking at night when she finishes her homework.
“Rather than just sitting on the couch and watching TV but still feeling anxious about everything going on in my life, I can sit on the couch, watch TV and smoke and not feel anxious at all,” she said.
Even though cannabis laws remain stagnant in Florida, the benefits of marijuana are still supported by research. While research facilities across the country continue to discover the effects and benefits of cannabis, UF students will continue to conduct their own research in private.
Contact Ella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @elladeethompson.
Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.