Marijuana. Weed. Grass. Bud. Mary-Jane. Cannabis. Whatever you call it, you’ve probably seen it, smelled it, or smoked it at some point. Marijuana is, after all, far and away the most commonly used illicit drug in the world, with about 4 percent of all adults consuming it regularly and 0.6 percent on a daily basis. Humans have used the drug as far back as the third millennium B.C. for recreational, spiritual, and medicinal purposes, and in recent years a very public debate on weed’s legality has caused many to question how harmful it really is.
And just as marijuana has pervaded our national culture, so too is its skunky smoke as much a part of the air in our college campuses as the smell of Easy Mac. At my school, weed is so common that the university barely gives you a slap on the wrist for being caught smoking—a violation results in a brief alcohol education class and a mark on your record, while in high school it meant immediate expulsion. But even though it’s all around us, weed is still illegal—and still dangerous in many ways.
But how bad is it, really? HC talks to college girls, both users and non-users and Deb Lewis, Cornell’s alcohol and drug expert, to get the low-down on getting high.
What are you smoking?
At first glance, that green stuff you pack into rolling papers and light up looks as innocuous as tea leaves, but it’s actually a very mild hallucinogen. It originates from the Cannabis plant, indigenous to Central and South Asia but now grown all over the world. Marijuana comes in countless forms and contains over 400 chemicals, but what users are really after is THC, its mind-altering ingredient. THC content averages about 4 percent of the chemical content in each Marijuana cigarette, but depending on the form and potency of your stash, it can be as high as 24 percent, which makes for some serious tripping.
Why do you smoke it?
By now, we’re all past the age of trying weed just to impress the hot soccer player at our first high school party. Girls may have tried it because of peer pressure back in high school, but in college they smoke it for its mind-altering effects—often as much as or even more than the boys. In fact, a 2004 for study showed that girls are trying weed before boys, and generally abusing substances at a higher level.
Marijuana can induce a sense of well-being and relaxation, and often a dream-like state where your mind wanders into fantasies. Unlike tobacco, marijuana is not a pure stimulant, and unlike alcohol it’s not a pure depressant—instead, it’s a mild hallucinogen (yes, seriously) with depressant properties. So if you smoke weed and suddenly have the incredible philosophical insight that the world is one big video game, that’s the THC talking. The effects usually peak in 10-30 minutes and last about two or three hours.
“It relaxes me,” Michelle*, a student at Columbia University, explains. “When I’m having a tough day in school or I’ve just done a lot of work, smoking at the end of the day helps me calm down and improve my mood. It’s like having a few drinks at cocktail hour for our generation.”