“One of the most persistent and unusual aspects of human behavior, observable in all cultures and through all of history, is man’s dissatisfaction with his ordinary state of consciousness and the consequent development of innumerable methods for altering it,” according to Charles T. Tart, professor emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Davis.
Students at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, the “green campus” in the UW System, have to cope with the prospect of being stereotyped as vegans, bikers, hippies, bluegrass fans and stoners by their counterparts in other universities. As the natural resources school, UWSP has a stigma of attracting those students across the state who are most “in tune with nature.”
However, this view might not be accurate, as indicated by the most recent survey about drug and alcohol use on campus. While students in the UW System have been found to abuse alcohol at a higher rate than in other states and the national averages, UWSP does not perform much differently than other schools in the state.
Although marijuana is the leading drug among U.S. college students, a far worse problem is alcohol abuse. Only 27.9 percent of UWSP students said they used illegal drugs or over-the-counter drugs they were not prescribed since entering college; meanwhile, 72 percent said they have either continued to or started to drink alcohol since entering college.
“The elevated and pervasive incidence of high-risk drinking is cause for alarm. National studies of college students show that binge drinking is strongly correlated with suicide, personal injury, physical violence, sexual aggression, vandalism, criminal activity, unsafe sexual behavior, and reduced academic performance,” according to the UW System Strategic Plan for AODA Prevention Initiatives.
Anne Hoffman, UWSP Wellness Coordinator, was a part of the committee that drafted the strategic plan a decade ago. Since then, Hoffman continues spearheading efforts to prevent, intervene in and curb alcohol and substance abuse, sexual assault, and unhealthy student habits and lifestyles. She terms this work ‘harm reduction.’
“We think, how can we help students have a great authentic collegiate experience?” said Hoffman. Her direct efforts include precluding unhealthy choices through a presentation to incoming freshmen during orientation, a required 1-hour online course, an online educational program and accessible resources, trainings and presentations before student organizations and residence halls, and enforcing policies of student expectations—and the possible consequences of violating them.
Hoffman remains hopeful that her dynamic efforts will reduce this false image of UWSP students. She prides herself in looking at her line of work from different perspectives, such as the social and cultural aspects of abuse.
Wisconsin’s infamous drinking culture is one such consideration. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2000 that alcohol consumption rates in Wisconsin are the highest in the nation, with 70.4% of Wisconsin adults using alcohol, and 23.2% engaging in binge drinking. According to Hoffman, 22 percent of students have alcoholism in their family.
“As school becomes more expensive, I want students to get every dime they invested out of their experience,” said Hoffman, who believes the survey results indicate that students can see a connection between substance consumption and academic performance.
“Higher grades have been correlated with lower levels of alcohol consumption, and in a national study of nearly 94,000 students from 197 colleges and universities conducted over three years, students with D’s or F’s reported consuming almost ten drinks per week, while those with A averages consumed a little more than four drinks per week,” notes the Strategic Plan.
The Pointer received feedback about the issue from four anonymous students who identified as drug users, and were interviewed separately. These students had a different view about their consumption.
The four anonymous students (who we will call students A, B, C and D) said they consumed marijuana, beer, and alcohol as their substances of choice, although one of them (B) noted he were also interested in “miscellaneous psychedelics.” When asked how many times they used each week, two male seniors (A and B) said “at least 30 times per week.” One of the two said, “Money is the only limiter.” One female senior (C) said she used marijuana “three times per week, tops,” and a male junior (D) admitted to smoking “weed at least 28 times” weekly.
When asked if they had ever used substances before class, all four said yes. Students A, B and D said they smoked marijuana “before almost every class” or “regularly.” Student C said she smoked marijuana before class “sometimes,” adding, “It makes class awesome!”
Reflecting on this astonishing revelation, students were asked whether marijuana use had impaired their learning abilities, reduced their productivity, lowered their grades or degraded their college experience. Student A said, “Not at all—if anything it makes me more productive because I have to write a lot of Philosophy papers and I can be much more productive when I’m stoned.” Student B said, “I feel less productive, but more creative,” noting drug use was a distraction from productivity because of time management rather than mind-alteration. Student C said “I don’t let it, I usually wait until I’m done with work.”
Students A, B, and D said their drug consumption had enhanced their college career. All three pointed to their grades, social relationships, and post-graduation plans as signs of their success in college, despite their above-average consumption. Some detailed insight came from Student D, who noted he was on the Dean’s List (denoting academic honors) and reflected that “it must be a personality thing,” referring to how drive and focus can overpower the negative effects of marijuana.
Pointing to his 3.7 GPA, Student D also argued, “I don’t believe it has impaired my ability to actively listen or participate in class discussion.” He stated that as a freshman, he found it hard to concentrate in class or contribute to discussion until he started smoking marijuana before class, which raised his ability to delve into subjects, critically analyze situations, and eloquently contribute to class. He went as far as to refer to marijuana as a possible “beneficial learning aid.”
“For those who may suffer from anxiety or ADD, marijuana can have a focusing effect,” Student D said. He also associated drug use with sociability and his success in extra-curricular involvement on campus. “My college career has been a positive one in regards to my future goals.”
“Our culture today is one of the most drug-oriented cultures in history; we go by the millions to our doctor (or our dealer) for pills to pep us up, calm us down, wake us up, put us to sleep, relax our tensions, make us forget, or enlighten us. As a whole our cultural attitudes toward drugs are irrational to the point of absurdity. We mightily praise some drugs whose detrimental effects are enormous and well known, such as alcohol, and condemn other drugs about which we know very little,” according to Tart.
Tart’s point may indicate a real policy problem. Attention-deficit stimulants are a booming industry on campuses, as students abuse non-prescribed amphetamines as a ‘study aid drug.’ Of all non-alcoholic substances used by UWSP students, amphetamines were far ahead of the others.
Angela Janis, a certified psychiatrist and a member of the Wisconsin Medical Society, said there are prescription drugs available to adults that are more dangerous than marijuana, which has only been shown to potentially cause brain damage in adolescents, such as Valium. She said marijuana is virtually impossible to overdose on, unlike opiates like morphine.
Wisconsin Democrats have proposed legislation that would decriminalize cannabis use for medical purposes. The last of such attempts was this previous November, when Rep. Mark Pocan and Sen. Jon Erpenbach introduced a medical marijuana bill.
Janis said there is strong evidence medical marijuana would benefit patients who are suffering due to a number of terminal illnesses or pains, such as cancer, side effects from chemotherapy, HIV, chronic pain, glaucoma and muscle spasms, including symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis.
Many also worry about the increasing drug-related violence in Mexico, and now pouring into the U.S., as a result of prohibition. According to Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, drug legalization is “the only way to eliminate violence associated with the drug cartels now moving into the United States.” There are also economic ramifications to legalization. Miron estimates that federal, state, and local governments spend roughly $44 billion a year to fund prohibition. Through regulation and taxation similar to those on alcohol and tobacco, those governments could collect $33 billion a year.
According to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion, over 53 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization. The Green Party’s presidential alternative to Barack Obama, Jill Stein, has promised marijuana decriminalization as a means to end the failed war on drugs, as one part of its “New Green Deal” platform.