7 Tips For College Freshmen, and Others Curious About Trying Pot For the First Time

Editor's Note: An 18-year-old about to start college wrote to a Drug Policy Alliance advice column, asking marijuana experts Malik Burnett and Amanda Reiman whether or not to try pot upon entering school. "Honestly, I feel very unprepared by the drug education classes I had in high school. I have never tried marijuana and I do not know if I want to, but I know it will be around at college," the soon-to-be freshman wrote. Burnett and Reiman's repsonse, which follows, contains useful information for folks of every age and education level who are on the fence about toking up for the first time:

First off, you do NOT have to try marijuana, even if others around you are. While many think that marijuana use is an expected part of the college experience, this is not true. Many students abstain from alcohol and other drugs until they are older, which is a great choice.

College is a time of new found freedom and responsibility which can be exciting and stressful. Using alcohol and other drugs during this time can make the stress worse and might detract from all the other fun and engaging opportunities that college can offer. While most people who use drugs do so non-problematically, being young is a risk factor for problematic drug use, so it is safest to wait until you are a bit older.  However, if you do decide to try marijuana, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of having a negative experience.

Do NOT mix marijuana with other substances, especially alcohol. Marijuana is a relatively safe substance compared to other intoxicants, but only when used alone. Marijuana and alcohol have a synergistic relationship (1+1=4) and mixing the two can increase your chance of an auto accident or negative physical reaction. Which brings me to…

Do NOT use marijuana and drive. While we have not yet developed reliable and valid technology for assessing marijuana intoxication on the road, it is illegal to drive under the influence of any substance, legal or not. Anytime you ingest an intoxicating substance, you should not get behind the wheel of a car.

If you decide to use marijuana, alcohol or any other drug, do so with someone you trust. Do not use them alone and do not use them if you are with people you do not know or in a situation that is new to you. When it comes to all alcohol and drug use, set and setting are very important. Set refers to your state of mind when using the substance, and setting refers to your environment.

Be aware of your campus drug policies. Marijuana prohibition can carry stiff penalties on college campuses, including expulsion and the denial of funding. Some campuses have equalized their penalties for underage drinking and marijuana use as to not encourage students to choose alcohol (which causes more problems than marijuana on campuses and elsewhere). But, know your campus rules and abide by them, it’s not worth the risk. In all but 2 states (CO and WA) recreational marijuana use is illegal. Penalties are highly variable and range from a ticket to mandatory jail time. Also, even in CO and WA, marijuana use is only legal for those 21 and older.

Do NOT eat marijuana infused food without extreme caution. Refer to our previous blog on edibles for more information. But, if you are new to marijuana, it is wise to skip the edibles all together. It is much easier to control your dose if ingesting through inhalation (smoking, vaporizing), so those are better methods of ingestion for someone who has not tried it before. If you do decide to eat marijuana infused food, eat it on a full stomach, eat a tiny amount to start (1/4 of the recommended dose) and wait at least an hour before ingesting more.

Just because you use try it once it does not mean that you need to use it again. And, even if you choose to use it again, less is always better. Always be aware of how your alcohol and other drug use might be interfering with other activities, school and your life.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions for help if you need it. Colleges provide access to health care, both physical and psychological. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, whether it is related to marijuana use or not, don’t be afraid to talk to someone. As I mentioned, starting college can be a stressful time. While alcohol and other drugs might seem like a go to way to deal with these feelings, it is important to examine whether those behaviors are getting in the way of becoming the person you want to be.


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