As a growing number of states have moved to legalize marijuana in recent years, cannabis use has been increasingly destigmatized.
Many students use cannabis on campus despite the Hopkins Student Conduct Code prohibiting its use or sale.
The News-Letter spoke with five students who regularly use marijuana for various reasons. Three of these students also sell products containing cannabis. Pseudonyms are used to identify these five students in order to protect their privacy.
Mental health and marijuana
Dan, a graduate student, began smoking marijuana on a daily basis as an undergraduate. Dan said that cannabis has helped him deal with the rigorous academic environment at Hopkins, although he explained that this was not the main reason he started to or continues to smoke.
“There are times when I’m very stressed, and weed will help take the edge off,” he said.
Sarah, a freshman, also uses marijuana to combat stress. She acknowledged that she has smoked more frequently since coming to Hopkins, due to both increased academic pressure and increased access to cannabis.
“It is a pretty demanding environment,” she said. “It is a social thing, but we all also [use it to] group-destress.”
Interim Dean of Student Life Toni Blackwell acknowledged that life as a Hopkins student can be challenging. She explained, however, that she does not believe marijuana use is an appropriate way of coping.
“I know students talk about it being a high-stress environment at Hopkins,” she said. “We are working on other ways to help students deal with their stress.
I don’t think using an illegal substance is the best way to do it.”
Like Dan, Jeff is a graduate student who also began smoking as an undergraduate, but he uses cannabis to treat his chronic migraines and epilepsy. Specifically, Jeff uses cannabidiol (CBD), which does not have a psychoactive component.
This means that it does not alter brain function. However, CBD has been shown to have anti-anxiety, appetite-inducing and pain-relieving effects, according to a 2015 study from Neurotherapeutics.
Jeff noted that while CBD does not entirely alleviate his symptoms, it does make them more manageable.
“For migraines, it’s not like a cure — it’s more like a bandaid,” he said. “Taking CBD is not going to magically make it go away, but it will reduce the pain so that I can actually deal with it.”
Kelly, a senior, began using cannabis to cope with anxiety and depression. However, he no longer believes that it has a positive effect on his mental health.
“I think that’s how I started using more regularly,” he said. “It was me self-medicating, but eventually I kind of moved out of that habit and moved to a more recreational, healthier way of using.”
Jeff, Dan and Kelly all sell marijuana-based products around the Hopkins campus. They said that the largest portion of their consumer base is made up of Hopkins undergraduates.
“This is not an endeavor to make a profit,” Dan said. “It’s sort of just to make sure we can offset our own weed costs.”
Marijuana’s side effects
Dr. William Checkley is an associate professor at the School of Medicine who has a joint appointment in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a member of a committee of experts convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to evaluate research on the health effects of both recreational and therapeutic marijuana use.
According to Checkley, the committee’s research suggests that cannabis is related to impairment in learning, memory and attention. However, he added that the committee believes that the link between cannabis use and these symptoms is only moderate.
“The committee found there was limited evidence linking cannabis use to impaired academic achievement and educational outcomes,” he said.
Checkley noted that there were flaws in the data collection in these studies.
“Cannabis use was not measured consistently through all the studies — and not only cannabis use but duration of cannabis use,” he said. “Those were big problems in the sampling and study designs.”
Rick, a senior who has been smoking since his junior year of high school, believes that it would be naïve to think that cannabis use has no effect on academic outcome. After struggling with school, Rick decided to quit smoking.
“I felt like if I was not getting good grades, I couldn’t justify smoking weed every night,” he said.
How state and federal laws affect Hopkins policy
Since 1996, 30 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form. Eight states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana.
In 2014, Maryland legalized medical marijuana. However, it only began awarding preliminary licenses to grow and sell marijuana last year. The first dispensaries opened last December.
Marijuana is illegal under federal law due to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA was passed in 1970 and stipulates that the manufacture, importation, distribution and possession of certain substances such as marijuana should be regulated by the U.S. government.
The CSA does not recognize a distinction between medical and recreational use of cannabis and, according to Interim Dean of Student Life Toni Blackwell, neither does University policy. Because Hopkins currently receives federal funding, the administration cannot condone the use of medical marijuana.
“If students were caught using marijuana in that way, they would have to go through the conduct process, because the federal government does not acknowledge that use of marijuana,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell explained that should a student get caught using or selling marijuana, it is possible that the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) may be involved in the following proceedings.
“When the marijuana is confiscated, our campus security works with the Baltimore Police,” she said. “They actually take the marijuana and depending, I believe, on the amount, [BPD officers] are the ones who take it into possession and decide next steps.”
Student smokers and security
Kelly said that when he and his friends would smoke in the dorms, his residential advisor (RA) would turn a blind eye.
“I was told later by someone who was an RA that the RAs would smell it, that we weren’t as discrete as we thought we were,” he said. “But we never got in trouble for it.”
Sarah, who has smoked in the dorms, said that she would rather be caught smoking off campus or by a campus security guard than by an RA.
“It’s still not really okay if a Hop Cop sees you, but it’s easier to be let off with a warning,” she said.
Rick was once caught smoking by a Hopkins security guard but did not face any consequences.
“He took down our names, but he never actually wrote us up,” he said. “I never heard anything about it after.”
He added that while he appreciates how lenient the University has been in handling his own case, he does not believe the administration should ignore instances in which students are caught smoking.
“The administration shouldn’t just turn a blind eye. That would be irresponsible,” he said.
Addressing drug use on campus
The University’s Drug, Alcohol, and Firearms Policies for Students states that its primary response to issues of alcohol and drug abuse is through education, intervention and treatment efforts.
Hopkins, according to Blackwell, is working to show students the harmful consequences of drug and alcohol use. Last fall, the University launched a campaign called Work Hard/Play Smart to spread information about the neurological effects of substance abuse and dispel myths that drugs or alcohol can alleviate stress.
“Particularly for Hopkins students, we want to talk to them about what using these substances does to your body and your brain,” Blackwell said. “When you’re educated about what you’re putting into your body, you can make better decisions.”
Blackwell went on to explain why Hopkins uses different campaigns to address alcohol and marijuana use.
“The difference with the marijuana piece is that it’s an illegal substance,” she said. “We don’t condone the use of illegal substances.”
While Sarah acknowledges that the University’s campaigns focus on the negative effects of marijuana use, she believes that the student body generally tend to have a neutral attitude towards people who use marijuana.
“I haven’t encountered anyone who’s horrifically opposed to marijuana use. Overall, I know people who don’t smoke, but they’re fine with other people smoking,” she said. “I think Hopkins definitely does push the idea that marijuana is bad.”