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Marijuana Use Among College Students

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Following a decline in the 1980s, the use of marijuana among college students has steadily risen since the early 1990s. This increase is a concern because it is believed that marijuana may act as a gateway drug, serving as an introduction to additional types of drug use.

The main active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The membranes of certain nerve cells in the brain contain protein receptors that bind to THC. Once securely in place, THC kicks off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the high that users experience. When someone smokes marijuana, THC rapidly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. This carries the chemical to organs throughout the body, including the brain.

Once it enters the brain, THC connects to specific sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells and influences the activity of those cells. Some brain areas have many cannabinoid receptors; others have few or none. Many cannabinoid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that influence memory, pleasure, concentration, thought, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. THC alters the way information is processed by the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory formation. This leads to the damage to short-term memory that users often experience.

Frequent marijuana use may be physically and emotionally harmful. A study by The Harvard School of Public Health found that 9 out of 10 students (91 percent) who use marijuana participate in other high-risk activities such as heavy drinking or cigarette smoking. It is also associated with a variety of other social and behavioral problems, including criminal acts, isolation, and poor academic performance.

According to the Harvard study, other factors associated with marijuana use include spending larger amounts of time at parties and socializing, spending less time studying, and perceiving community service and religion as unimportant. Students at large schools, co-ed schools, and commuter schools were more likely to use marijuana, while students from historically black colleges and colleges in small or rural towns were less likely to use the drug. Marijuana use is also associated with poor academic performance. Students who used marijuana were less likely to study and more likely to have a GPA of B or less.

Marijuana is seen by some college students as a purely recreational drug that serves as a rite of passage in college. Just like with alcohol use, this perception fails to acknowledge the potential dangers of marijuana use. Contrary to popular opinion, marijuana use can be harmful.

The use of alcohol and other drugs may be associated with a wide range of negative consequences. Some of these include decreased academic performance, fighting, vandalism, acquaintance rape, and unprotected sex. While these consequences are associated with marijuana use, there is no evidence that marijuana use directly causes these behaviors to happen.

The specific effects of marijuana use depends on the type of cannabis used, they way in which it is used, the setting in which it is used, the expectations of the user, and whether or not it is used in conjunction with other drugs.

Potential short-term effects of marijuana use include the following:

  • Feelings of intoxication
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Bloodshot or glassy eyes
  • Loss of coordination or poor sense of balance
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Difficulty in listening or speaking
  • Impaired or reduced short-term memory
  • Impaired or reduced comprehension
  • Impairments in learning and memory, perception, * problem solving, and judgment
  • Altered sense of time
  • Reduced ability to perform tasks requiring concentration and coordination, such as driving a car
  • Altered motivation and cognition, making the acquisition of new information difficult
  • Paranoia
  • Intense anxiety or panic attacks
  • Psychological dependence

While there hasn’t been much research done to determine the specific effects of marijuana, according to the American Council for Drug Education there is growing evidence that it may adversely affect the brain, lungs, heart, and immune system. Potential long-term effects of marijuana use include:

  • A decreased ability to learn and remember things
  • Delay of the onset of puberty and decreased sperm production in men
  • Disrupt the menstrual cycle and inhibit discharge of eggs from the ovaries in females
  • Damage to the immune system
  • Increase in cancer rates
  • Increase in the rates of respiratory problems and disease

Sustained marijuana use may directly affect academic achievement for those that experience difficulty in problem solving and poor memory. Long-term use might also lead to "amotivational syndrome. This is where users are extremely unmotivated in their lives and their achievement of academic, career, and personal goals. Long-term use may also lead to a decreased ability to deal with the stressors that often accompany personal growth and achievement. Marijuana is the “do nothing” drug. Just like in life, there are things in a college experience that one has to do that are not particularly pleasant (like 8am classes). It’s part of achieving an academic degree. It should be noted, however, that whether or not marijuana use causes this syndrome, leads to it, or is merely associated with it has not yet been determined.

Marijuana is the second most frequent drug used by college students. Approximately 46.9% of college students surveyed in 2006 reported using marijuana during their lifetime. The increase in marijuana use was reported among all races and types of students, though the study found that the majority of marijuana users are white. Marijuana use was higher among those who participate in other high-risk behaviors, such as binge drinking, cigarette smoking, and multiple sexual partners. Marijuana use was highest at colleges in the Northeast and lowest in Southern colleges. It was also highest at colleges considered to be “very competitive,” and lowest at those considered “not competitive.”

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Ricy Mardona almost 6 years ago Ricy Mardona

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andersx almost 7 years ago andersx

Does the federal government pay by the ignorant uninformed blog now? I can't think of any other reason why somebody would go to the effort to blog about the devil weed marijuana and how it will ruin you and everybody around you's life. Or does Ronald Reagan appear in your sleep to whisper nonsensical anti-drug propaganda? Even if your article was 100% correct, and that all illegal drugs are 100% evil and completely destroy your body, why is this a issue of criminality or politics? Certainly you must agree that this would be a health issue. A personal issue. So why is illegal drug abuse treated so differently from say alcoholics?

tim almost 7 years ago tim

Everything this person says is wrong cannabis does not kill brain cell and may stimulate growth. Here are some real facts about this amazing plant does not cause cancer may help cancer as thc kills cancer cells, nobody has ever died from cannabis use, one of the safest substances known to man,don't have to smoke it , helps many dieases such as ms and arthritis and loads more, lots of propaganda has been made about cannabis and it is rearly sick in my opinion it could be a cure for cancer an the government is just sitting there do you want to know why its because if people knew the government will lose millions as cannabis is very easy to produce so everyone will be making there own medicines and no one will use chemo and raido theripory and lose loads of money. That is why sativex a new cannabis based medicine is cannabis mixed with alcohol so people think cannabis is a bad drug and kills and it blatenley dosent as no one has died its a shame to be honest because cannabis has no nasty side effects like other medicines. Please do some proper research about cannabis before you excuse cannabis being all bad and don't go on anti drug websites like talk to frank as most of that website is just a scare as talk to frank is owned by the goverment and the govenment hate cannabis because of money so they will have loads of lies go on a better webisite called clear witch is very truthful that has all the truth.

Casey Mason about 7 years ago Casey Mason

The comment below is pretty ignorant as a daily user none of the effects above have ever negatively affected me. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of seven and took 5 pills of ritalin every day for ten years. Now of course theres nothing wrong with giving a first grader 5 pills a day and no one ever said anything about it. But now I have done my research and switched to pot. Now smoking pot everyday starting my junior year of high school i maintained a 4.0 throughout the rest of high school and I am now attending college and majoring in physics. Ritalin is just ritalin so its fine right? Even though its destroying my liver and making me feel like crap every day thats okay right? But smoking pot getting the same high grades and still taking part in volunteer work is wrong because so many people die from pot every year right? good lord give me a break you ignorant person. PS: I have driven stoned on pot probably more than ive driven sober and I have never once been in an accident or not once have i been pulled over. Never have I even been close to getting in an accident either. To say people shouldnt drive on pot is like saying people shouldnt drive on coffee or cigarettes.

Stanford Student about 7 years ago Stanford Student

What frustrates me about this article are not the many "potential effects" of smoking weed. My problem is that the article assumptively considers them "effects" at all. Using the word "effects" suggests a causal relationship in which these negative behaviors are preceded by, and are concurrent with, smoking pot. If I ask a pothead, "hey, do you drink, party, rape, kill, etc." and they say yes, that doesn't in any way prove a causal relationship between weed and those behaviors. I can think of many intellectuals who have tried pot, and at least two Nobel prize winners who consistently use/used pot (one has passed away). I myself am a Stanford student with a 3.7 gpa en route to law school. I smoke every day. The underachiever pothead smear campaign needs to come to an end.

Jeff about 7 years ago Jeff

Define irony: College educated people who have no concept of the definition of anecdotal, evidenced to the constant referent of "I." Fact: Smoking anything is bad for you. Its not like cigars, cigarettes or marijuana is being stuffed full of daily vitamins and antioxidants. Putting tars in your lungs can cause your tissue to develop carcinomas, period. Fact: Not all people who use pot will become "potheads" just like not everyone who drinks wine with their dinner will become alcoholics. Just like we do not want grandpa to drive home after having a few drinks, I don't want my cabdriver smoking a few bowls before driving me to the airport. What should or shouldn't be legal is a completely different issue. One thats for the ballot box. At one time we decided alcohol was to dangerous to use, so we made it illegal, later we changed our minds. Right now as a society we think that pot is too dangerous to be legal, largely due to its irresponsible use and abuse. If someone were to be abusing alcohol every day to the point of never leaving their parents house, not holding a job, and only wanting to play xbox all day long, we would want them to go to rehab and AA meetings. Somehow we have created this erroneous idea that pot is somehow not "addictive" even though its use can seriously retard the social and mental development of those who abuse it. Most adults have met more than a few people who use it more than recreationally, to the point its use becomes a lifestyle. This is a large reason its use is still illegal, responsible users do not have interventions for those who abuse it, because "it's just pot." The next irony is that some will think I am anti pot, which for personal (self) use, I am.

Someone over 7 years ago Someone

WOW this article is soooo wrong it's disgraceful. How is pot associated with criminal acts? Please explain that. Being high doesn't make you wanna go out on a raping spree. It makes you wanna go on a chips and pizza spree lol. I think this article should be updated with post-reefer madness information... And I would like to know what is wrong with seeing religion as unimportant. That's completely irrelevant and not even true necessarily.

time over 7 years ago time

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA classic! pot is by far the most over debated topic EVER! there is no problem with it, get over it. if you dont like it thats fine but you cant convince people that do that they're bad people. and for those people that have never used it...your opinions are like pennies, not worth a pinch of (poop)!

Negative Nancy over 7 years ago Negative Nancy

I just want to put my two cents on here. I've done research and THC has the exact same effects as caffeine except for one...it reduces the speed of neurotransmitter connection instead of increasing. Alcohol is much more dangerous and more deadly. I realize this. BUT I have seen my friend go from future doctor to chemist for a brewery working under my other friend who got a 16 on his ACT. He is whipped by his girlfriend and went from hero to zero while we were in high school. His brother, who also smokes excessive amounts, wanted to be a journalist but is now teaching kindergartners English in Prague. I used to smoke but stopped once I saw this happening to my friend. I don't want a country full of people like that.

Kevin Paul almost 8 years ago Kevin Paul

I think that everyone that think marijuana is so bad is because they're band rider's. I just dont understand how no one talks about all the alcohol that kills millions daily and its legal, what about the control sustances that doctors prescribe to patients. Marijuana has never killed anyone, they say you can over dose on it I'm not saying that its not true but you will fall asleep before that happens. I never heard of anyone going to rob a store just to get a bag of weed. People try and make everyone think that marijuana is so bad. You have to understand that there's doctors, lawyers, law enforcemen, nurses, etc.. all types of people that have use marijuana and became successful. I have been using marijuana for about six years im in college and i have a 3.1 GPA so it doesn't make u have poor academics. If this country would pull there heads out their behinds and realize that all the money the government spend on the border to keep marijuana out this country, just decriminalize it those 20 billion dollars the mexican drug cartels are making off america annually we could keep those 20 billion dollars in this nation. If marijuana would get decriminlized we would not even get close to a recession

ulrick beon almost 8 years ago ulrick beon

i dont agree that marijuana should be legalized the reason being is because it would have an impact on the union of marijuana ....people dont realize how much this natural plant keeps business going not only for the people who illegally do it but for the government that quote on quote try to get rid of it.....its funny that"bud" is the least harmful drug that helps so much in health but is targeted more than the things that people sniff and instantly die from from an overdose???????? or inject into there bodies these drugs are terrible but why is marijuana targeted the most

craig almost 8 years ago craig

1st year law student. 3.49 GPA. Smoke every day.

Alec shelton almost 8 years ago Alec shelton

i agree with oester8 completely even though im only 12 myself i think they should legalize marijuana because it hasnt killed a person yet but all of my friends in my neighborhood do it me myself would never do it because of my advancement in school im smarter than any kid in my class and i enjoy i admit reading all this article scares me a little i may never do it well thats my plan but never the less oester8 was write sincerly yours Alec D. shelton

Johny Appleseed almost 8 years ago Johny Appleseed

Ok, so to theresa, you seem very proud to have come from an "IVY LEAGUE" school, proud enough to think you are better than everyone else who didnt choose to do that. And you say you smoked marijuana some in college? Well, if marijuana was so bad then how did you turn out so great? You talk like youve made all these accomplishments while smoking marijuana and then you stopped using it and decided it was bad? if it were bad, you never would have been able to do those things. Although honestly, i would hate to be like you because you seem like a jerk, a classist, and all the kind of person who no one really likes, but just hangs around for money. And to everyone else who is saying that marijuana affects everyone differently so it should be illegal, well, it goes the other way around to geniuses. Just because it gives one person panick attacks doesnt mean it gives me pannick attacks. And trust me, if someone smokes marijuana and they get panick attacks after smoking it they wont smoke it again. So if it were legal, i would be happy because i can smoke it, and they would be happy because they wouldnt be smoking it. And this article has no original facts in it, no studies have been quoted. This is a bunch of myths put into an article. I dont want to see an article filled with myths, i want to see one that proves the myths true. And i have failed to ever see one. EVER. And if these people behind these studies were coming up with conclusive evidence then there would be articles out there. Its a cycle, people grow up hearing marijuana is bad, so they think it is bad. Maybe you should stop following what your hearing blindly from people like the author of this article, and start making decisions for yourself. Theresa, you are the kind of person i despise because you have fallen into the path of what seems to be a constructvie member of society, when really, you are constructive, you are just there doing what so many people have done before you. Maybe you should branch out and question our society because it is wrong in so many ways, such as thinking that the tens of thousands of deaths on our border that are caused by the war on drugs which is obviously failing, because kids still get weed and people are still dying, is worth it. We make this drug illegal because we want to improve people lives in small ways, and by doing that, we end the lives of thousands of others. Which would you prefer?

MidnightToker almost 8 years ago MidnightToker

Haha, I am reading this high.... and I gotta say... I'm a college student, been smoking for 2 years... in a difficult major.... Maintaining an A-B average.... Got friends.... quit smoking the cigarettes awhile ago... dont care for drinking.... and as for the comment on multiple sex partners well to that I say weak... Other than that. This is obviously a paper written by a college blog website and the maniac deans and jerk off campus cops need to read this to feel like there is some written proof to their close minded logic. Can I get a witness!

Pablo almost 8 years ago Pablo

What a horribly mis-informed article. To the obnoxious woman that wrote potheads only get liberal arts degrees, I happen to be a Biochem major and smoke weed all the time, maintaining a 3.9 GPA major. Some of the most intelligent and actually successful people I know smoke weed all the time.

Concerned Mom about 8 years ago Concerned Mom

I will not begin to say I know much about marijuana, but the one thing I do know is that if a person was drinking alcohol every day as some of you state you smoke weed everyday, I would say they have an abuse problem. If you have to do it every day, you have a problem!

Contessa over 8 years ago Contessa

I think the article is for information only. I have smoked weed, and its nice every once and a while for me. It doesn't affect my grades, or my life. However, i do have people in my family that smoke weed everyday, and i think it is those people who this article really addresses, because i can see the lack of motivation, poor judgement, respitory problems in my family members. Also, weed can and has been laced with other drugs, which introduces the user to those other drugs. I feel that it should be smoked recreationally, and that there is nothing wrong with that. But some people, it turns into something more than that and there is where the problem comes in. Drugs are drugs...drugs have different effects on different people. My one sister who hasn't even gone to college yet, has now picked up the habit of smoking weed every day, and she has fits of anger and acts very disrespectul to her family members (until she's had a hit). I personally don't like to have that feeling of being "high" all the time, there is a delayed reaction to things which could be detrimental (i'm a single mom with two babies i'm responsible for). This is why it should be enjoyed recreationally, when all other important business is not present (ie when hanging out with good friends, chilling). But even then you have to know who your friends are...cuz people can take advantage of you. that's my lil 2 cents.

Justin over 8 years ago Justin

@theresa I am an undergrad at a certain Canadian University in chemical engineering with a specialization in biomedical engineering. I am maintaining a GPA of 3.0 and am about to graduate. I was once staunchly opposed to trying the drugs in cannabis—although, I did respect the decisions of others for their choice as long as they are not a metaphorical drain on society—, but as my knowledge of drugs grew, I became more accepting of the idea and started using cannabis in second year. I don't need to explain myself to you, I just wanted to give you a short anecdote. In fact, in my fourth year design project, I am stuck in a group of highly ineffectual people and I am the one left pulling the weight of these non-users of cannabis. I also want you to know that I have good social skills, am highly motivated and self disciplined, highly athletic person. Occasionally enjoying the drugs in cannabis is what I choose, but if future jobs prevent me from maintaining such a lifestyle, I am prepared to sacrifice cannabis in the face of my career. All the best, Justin PS feel free to send me an email to the one provided above.

greg watson over 8 years ago greg watson

This article is absolutely ignorant and should be erased immediately. The author obviously did very little research and knows nothing about the effects of marijuana use. For 25 years, researchers have searched for a marijuana-induced amotivational syndrome and have failed to find it. There is nothing about marijuana specifically that causes people to lose their drive and ambition. College students that use marijuana (like me) have the same grades as non-users.Marijuana does not cause people to use hard drugs. What the gateway theory presents as a causal explanation is a statistic association between common and uncommon drugs, an association that changes over time as different drugs increase and decrease in prevalence. Marijuana is the most popular illegal drug in the United States today. Therefore, people who have used less popular drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and LSD, are likely to have also used marijuana. Most marijuana users never use any other illegal drug. Indeed, for the large majority of people, marijuana is a terminus rather than a gateway drug. As for the author of this seriously misinforming article, get the facts and know your business BEFORE you write.

MM McGee over 8 years ago MM McGee

Theresa, you're also a woman who is married and has children, which means you're statistically more likely to be judgmental about marijuana use. Remember when you used to be fun? Then you got that boooooring degree. An MBA? Why? Is business really that complicated? Is it really more complicated than Milton, the study of whom you seem to think is beneath you? Anyway, how does it feel to BE a stereotype as you work to stereotype pot smokers? Pretty ironic, huh? (Ironic is a liberal arts terms. Sorry if that bothers you.) Casey, there is not a single "statistic" in this article. What are you talking about? I got high last night, and I know perfectly well what statistics are and what a valid claim looks like. There simply aren't any in this article. Plus, it doesn't matter how the drug affects everyone. It ONLY matters how the drug affects me (and all the other mes out there like me). It's insane to have this absurd war on drugs and the growing Mexican cartel threat at our border because marijuana gives some women and womanly men anxiety. And make no mistake about it-all articles like this, wittingly or not, support the war on drugs, which means they support state-sponsored habits of inflicting death and imprisonment on citizens of the world. (And you use "a" in "affect" when the word you want is the verb. "Effect" is the noun.)

theresa over 8 years ago theresa

Great article. After reading the comments by obvious potheads in their naive college youthful rationalizatin and in DENIAL, I am actually embarassed for them. I am a mother with 3 college students and at a long, long time ago I went to a well known IVY LEAGUE and onto graduate school for MBA. Yes, I smoked pot and do know the effects. Any drug, be it alcohol, THC (pot), heroin, cocaine, etc. that is purposely used to alter one's consciousness is going to have negative consequences. And, THC does effect short term memory, lowers libido, interferes with concentration and focusing, decreases motivation, wastes time, induces awkward socializing skills, and for you college "intellectual" potheads out there with a predisposition for mental health issues smoking pot can trigger anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and depression. Have you noticed any of your friends gaining weight from the munchies? Just because a few pot smoking college students here and there manage to have a 3.8 GPA is irrelevant. And, I wonder what their major is - something in the liberal arts? Try majoring in chemical engineering that requires extreme focus, concentration, memory, attention, motivation, discipline, and full activation of the brain and see what happens to a pot smoking chem e major - they will not maintain. My point is, I am a college student from the late 60's and early 70's who smoked pot for awhile but was intelligient enough (emotional intelligience) to stop using the drug. THC is a mind-altering chemical with negative consequences for the brain and your physical health let alone your future. So, stop rationalizing. It is one thing if you are a cancer patient and need THC (marinol or in some states the leaf form) for appetite stimulation, anti-nausea, and pain - for some odd reason kids think if THC is used for medicinal purposes it must be okay to use to get high. Very irrational.

lh about 9 years ago lh

wow, the author of this article is grossly misinformed. Its things like this that cause a problem. You say marijuana is dangerous and leads to high risk behaviors, what do you think happens when kids try it? nothing! exactly! so they think you are a big, fat liar. why should they heed your advice on things that actually could be dangerous. do some real research and then get back to us.

Bill Everyman over 9 years ago Bill Everyman

Hello this is a concerned american citizen who has read this article in its entirety. What is said about marijuana in this atricle seems to have been based off of studies by the government done in the early 1900's and should be considered out of date. Frightening parents into thinking marijuana is not illeagal, but the internet gives us the right to sway millions of others thinking b/c its almost like being the only prophet in the year 12 b.c. because the first person who is astray will read your bs and then believe its straight from the mouth of deity. I agree with oester8. Todays America is not going to have laws and regulations that are based on small minded ideas that lay a foundation for our now gigantic empire also. Its a new Nation under many gods. I am tired of alcohol behing treated like the good son and marijuana getting the table scraps and lebel of a terrible man killer when indeed it is no more harmful than mowing your lawn with no breath mask on. Now i must smoke a bowl, and manage you and your families finances, and care for your kids while you are at work;...or maybe i will "sew" you back up when you get gernied into my O.R... i am.. Dr. Bill Everyman, and i will be around forever b/c mary jane is not killing me, not putting a damper on my I.Q., and not my pocketbook either. Hope this helps.

Casey Langdon over 9 years ago Casey Langdon

I'm sure this article was not a direct attack against you and your "intelligent" friends. I use quotes because if you were at all intelligent you would understand that what has been stated in this article are simply STATISTICS that have been accumulated over many years of research and observation done with the substance. What might be okay for you and your friends to use "every week", might not be okay for someone else. You, personally, do not know how the drug effects everyone- or do you? You've studied the reactions that all types of people have had with the substance? By the content of your first comment, I'm guessing NOT. Maybe you should think twice about speaking up against many years research- when all you have to support your side is purely exclusive to you and your friends' experiences with the drug. I don't personally agree with EVERYTHING that has been stated in this article, but I am not going to make a FOOL out of myself and my college degree by speaking up against something I truely know little about (compared to the people who have studied it for longer than I have been alive).

laura knowles over 9 years ago laura knowles

This article is scientifically incorrect with numerous citations of medical conditions caused by marijuana usage. These studies, having previously thought to be true, are medically antiquated.

Ashley Oesterle almost 10 years ago Ashley Oesterle

Wow. the ignorance contained in this article is utterly disgusting. I am a full time university student with a 3.8 GPA and I smoke weed every week. AND so do my friends who go to tufts, Hofstra, Brown, and NYU. Still think that weed leads to poor grades? Just like the government, little reserach was done to support any of these claims. And your list of side effects is amusing to say the least. Thats it- lets scare people from doing it. Lets make it an evil drug just like we did to meth and heorin- because you know heorin and weed are exactly the same (can you sense my sarcasim?). Considering the drug is used for glaucoma patients and for some patients who suffer depression, making this drug immoral is the wrong way to go. 1972 presidentially appointed National commission on Marijuana and Drug abuse recommended possession of weed for personal use or noncommercial distribution be decriminalized; and what do you know some states followed but not enough because of articles like this one filled with propaganda. You would think humans have evolved to let weed and all its help effects contribute to our nation- especailly our depressed nation (speaking from experience with my use of weed). And I'm insulted by the statement in this article "Marijuana use was higher among those who participate in other high-risk behavios, such as binge drinking, cigarette smoking, and multiple sexual partners." Personally I see no supportive research backing that claim; also, my personal experience and that of my friends is no even close to that statement, except for the binge drinking of course which is commonplace among college students. If we would decriminalize weed maybe it would be the commonplace among university students, instead of a substance that kills hundreds of thousands every year and is the leading cause of driving deaths among teenagers; atleast weed slows you down so your speeding like a drunk.(that statement has no supportive reserach I'll admit it, but through my 8 years of personal experience I would chose a driver smoking weed, instead of a drunk driver ANY day. And that obvioulsy says a lot. Excuse my spelling errors, but now I must get back to my class work then smoke a blunt. Have a good day.