How Many College Students Use Marijuana?

Not all college students use marijuana. But more than half do – at least, if a recent study done at University of Northern Colorado is representative of other schools.

Granted, it is a college in Colorado. Still, the results tell us in general terms that, shockingly, weed is quite popular among college students. They also tell us what kinds of students might be at risk for more serious problems arising from cannabis use.

Here are the exact numbers.

The study included 300 students, 61 percent of whom were women, and all of whom were psychology students.

Of those students, about three-quarters reported ever having used marijuana in their lives. Moreover, about 65 percent said they’d used marijuana in the last year.

It turned out that some students were more likely to use cannabis than others. In particular, freshmen and students who weren’t involved in Greek life had used marijuana more frequently in the last month.

The researchers also identified several characteristics that were associated with more problematic marijuana use. For example, people who got high as a coping mechanism or as a way of dealing with boredom were at higher risk for problem marijuana use.

One obvious question is whether the fact that marijuana is legal in Colorado influenced these numbers. Some previous research has looked at whether legalizing pot increases use among college students.

Specifically, a study of 10,924 college students published this summer found that legalizing marijuana did increase use, but mainly among those who had recently engaged in heavy alcohol use. One possible interpretation of this is that making cannabis legal may increase use among people who are particularly vulnerable to heavy substance use, but not necessarily among the population more generally.

That said, it’s possible that students at your typical college aren’t such prolific tokers as students at University of Northern Colorado. A 2014 study of 3,146 students in North Carolina and Virginia found that 30 percent reported having used marijuana before entering college.

In the 2014 study, factors like having at least $100 per month in spending money and rarely going to church were associated with marijuana use.

Clearly, 30 percent is a lot different than 75 percent. However, this is a study of a different sample of students at different schools in a different part of the country, so it’s hard to say what accounts for this discrepancy.

Overall, though, a clear takeaway from this research is that marijuana use is widespread among college students – especially at University of Northern Colorado.

Image: Flickr/Chuck Grimmett