Editor’s Note: Some names of sources have been changed at the request of sources who wish to avoid possible repercussions. These names are denotedat their first mention with an asterisk.
Last year, late on the night of April 19, 2012, a group of 20-some Concordia students lit up on Olin Hill.
At 11:55 p.m., two joints packed with marijuana in tow, they sat in a circle on the grassy hill and waited for April 20 to begin.
“The second it hit midnight we sparked ‘em,” said *Sam, one of the students there that night.
According to The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, marijuana is the most frequently abused illicit drug in the U.S. Marijuana is not legal in Minnesota or North Dakota but that doesn’t always stop area people from using it.
Earlier this school year, Sam said he had a “stoner party” in his garage.
“People would bring Bud and music and just get baked,” he said.
The group decided that day that they would relive the experience come April 20.
Dr. Susan Larson, a psychology professor at Concordia, said the social aspects of marijuana impact its prevalence on college campuses.
“I think the college culture results in some people using (marijuana) who didn’t in high school,” she said.
Sam guesses that at least 50 percent of Concordia students have used marijuana.
“Just a lot of people are better at hiding it than others,” he said.
*Anna, a Concordia student who has used marijuana since she was a freshman in high school, has a more conservative estimation. She thinks that 20 percent of the student population has at least tried marijuana.
Sam’s estimation is consistent with what many Concordia students think about their peers’ use of marijuana.
Concordia puts out a health survey every other year to assess students’ attitudes towards and activity when it comes to things like marijuana and alcohol. The American College Health Association National College Health Assessment was administered during the spring 2012 semester.
Jasi O’Connor, director of Residence Life at Concordia, said the survey asks students about their own marijuana use and the prevalence of marijuana among their peers.
The disparity between actual and perceived use is dramatic.
According to last year’s results, just under 7 percent of students reported using marijuana anywhere between one and nine days consecutively. The perceived usage was 50 percent, just like Sam guessed.
This disconnect occurs in the actual versus perceived use of other substances, O’Connor said. Students frequently assume that their peers are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes more than they actually are.
People who use marijuana face the stigma that gets placed on the drug and the so-called “pothead” culture it has created.
Anna is well aware of this stigma.
She said the popular belief about marijuana is that people who use it are unmotivated and apathetic. But Concordia students, even if they do use marijuana, tend to be very driven and motivated to succeed, she said.
Despite her disagreements with the way marijuana is perceived by society, Anna limits her use to every once in a while on the weekend. She said her desire to succeed in college and having a major that requires a lot of time and dedication have both led her to cut back.
“I think the feeling of accomplishing something is way more rewarding than a quick fix,” she said.
While this stigma has led Sam to restrict his use, he has another, more pressing reason to quit.
In late October, Sam smoked with a couple friends. Instead of experiencing a relaxing high, Sam’s heart began to race, and he felt dizzy. His body temperature rose swiftly and plummeted in a succession of hot and cold flashes. A panic attack was nothing he had ever experienced as a result of smoking marijuana.
According to the Mayo Clinic, illicit drugs, among other things such as alcohol and caffeine, can cause or worsen panic attacks.
Since that experience, Sam said he has been trying to quit using marijuana. He said it has helped to have friends who don’t smoke so that the temptation isn’t there.
“I’ve been trying to surround myself with positive influences,” he said.
Though the data suggests that a high percentage of students don’t use marijuana, O’Connor said she worries that students who use don’t fully understand the negative effects the drug can have on their well-being.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can impact a person’s health in different areas. Physically, the drug raises the heart rate and can increase the risk of having a heart attack. Also, marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, causing respiratory problems in frequent smokers. Studies have shown connections between chronic users and mental illness, although more research is needed to determine whether these are mere coincidences.
Students might not always recognize when getting high or drinking for that matter becomes an issue.
While she believes marijuana is a choice that each individual should be free to make, Anna said that marijuana can be abused.
“Marijuana isn’t addictive, but some people rely on it,” she said.
If students get the idea that this kind of behavior is normal while they are in college, it can easily carry on into post-college life, O’Connor said.
April 20 (commonly referred to as “4/20”) is a day devoted to the celebration of marijuana. Different theories exist about its origin, but the saying got its start in the 70s with a group of high school students who met at 4:20 p.m. every day to smoke marijuana. The phrase is now synonymous with getting high.
Despite the white scenery in Fargo-Moorhead, Concordia students may be seeing more green than expected this weekend.
Sam, on the other hand, will be breaking from “4/20” tradition. He will not be having another get-together in his garage. This year, Sam will be staying sober.