Getting high to get by: Student perspectives on marijuana

December 8, 2016 — by Navin Tiwary and Austin Wang

Students talk about marijuana usage on campus and student's experiences with the drug. 

Editor’s Note: Carl and Jimmy are pseudonyms to protect the subjects’ privacy.

Carl remembers the first time he smoked marijuana. The joint was between his trembling fingers, but his body was unable to understand what it was like to be high. After a couple of puffs, he found himself coughing, his throat dry from the joint.

“In the car ride back, I was screaming and struggling to breathe, because my throat was really dry and I had no water, so we had to go to Safeway to buy water,” Carl said. “While high,” he added with a grin.

Soon his body soon became accustomed to the drug.

“The first time I got high felt good,” Carl said. “I was laughing the whole time, but I could still control myself and I felt really calm.”

Carl was first exposed to marijuana earlier this year during his summer vacation in Portland, Ore., where he tried a small amount when his parents offered him a bit to smoke.

Since Colorado and Washington made history as some of the first states to legalize the use of recreational marijuana in 2012, Carl obtained the marijuana with ease.

Since then, national debate has opened up as to whether this once-taboo substance has detrimental effects on health.

In  liberal-leaning California, attitudes toward drugs like marijuana have softened. According to the National Institute of Health, marijuana use has proliferated among teenagers and adults, almost doubling since 2002.

However, national polls from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention also show that teen marijuana usage dropped off slightly,  with only 21.7 percent of teens reporting using marijuana in the past 30 days in 2015 as opposed to the 23.4 percent in 2013.

In November, California passed Proposition 64, making it legal for adults age 21 and above to use and grow marijuana for their own personal intentions. The proposition also allows the sale of marijuana to be legal, stamped with a 15 percent tax on all of its sales.


Prop 64’s impact in Saratoga

At Saratoga High, recreational use of marijuana is already popular among many students, but some opponents fear that the drug’s legalization will only make marijuana more accessible for all youths.

Prop 64 will go into full effect on Jan. 1, 2018. While marijuana possession was immediately legalized on Nov. 9, retail sale of recreational marijuana will not be legal until 2018. Although the legalization of marijuana only applies to adults over the age of 21, Prop 64 may make it easier for students to obtain marijuana. The reason: Any adult is now a potential dealer.

Some current users, however, do not believe the culture at Saratoga will change very much following the passage of the proposition.

Jimmy, a frequent marijuana user, is one of them.

“It will be much easier for everyone to get marijuana, but it just depends more on the kids’ personal decisions and whether or not they want to experiment with it,” Jimmy said.

The official statewide poll in Colorado seem to agree as it found that marijuana usage among high school students actually dropped from 22 percent in 2011 to 21.2 percent in 2015 after the legalization of marijuana in 2013.

The poll results are not surprising. Even under the new legislation, students who are caught with marijuana may be forced to undergo marijuana counseling, which may include drug education classes, motivation therapy and community service.

Furthermore, driving under the influence of marijuana is still a crime. A DUI on an individual’s record can immediately result in loss of license, a fine and jail sentence.

On campus, using marijuana leads to additional punishments for students. According to the California Education Code, students who are caught with marijuana on school property or in a school-related activity, such as an off-campus dance, are subject to three- to five-day suspension and possible expulsion, while students caught selling marijuana on school grounds will be expelled.

For the most part, these punishment guidelines are a strong deterrent against student marijuana usage at school.

“I think every student knows that if they use illegal drugs or alcohol at school, they would get in trouble,” assistant principal Brian Thompson said. “The majority of our students really don’t want to be in a situation where they get in trouble, or in a situation where they bring illegal substances into schools.


Marijuana’s health effects

Experts at the National Institute of Drug Abuse have linked marijuana to a variety of mental health problems, such as lack of impulse control and lower IQ. Additionally, researchers at Columbia University found that marijuana users are 85 times more likely to try harder drugs such as cocaine.

Experts in substance abuse have also cited that DUIs due to  marijuana usage are a possible health hazard.

According to the International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety, marijuana impairs tracking, motor coordination, visual function and divided attention, all skills that are lawfully required for safe driving.


Getting high and going forward

According to some of the frequent marijuana users on campus, the intensively rigorous academic environment of the school contributes to students seeking ways to relieve stress and find ways to cut back and relax. For many students, marijuana seems like the perfect solution.

“It really heightens general worldly social pleasures, like listening to music. It makes movies more interesting, comedies more funny and dramas more engaging,” Jimmy said. “You can hang out with your friends and take a break and get away from the stress of schoolwork.”

But marijuana does have downsides, as Jimmy experienced firsthand.

“Once, I ate an edible that had a lot of milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive constituent that affects your brain, and I hadn't developed a high tolerance at that point,” Jimmy recalled. “It really just hit me and I could hardly do much. I felt kind of sick and grounded to the bed.”

Still, this experience has not deterred Jimmy from ever smoking marijuana again.

“[I don’t think that] anyone has ever in the history of the world died from taking it or ingesting it,” Jimmy said. “Even though I have suffered bad trips, I just had to calm down and remind myself that it's safe.”

Although there are no confirmed cases in which a person directly died from consuming marijuana, there have been reports of marijuana-related complications leading to death. According to CBS News, two men died in 2014 due to complications from smoking marijuana. Another report by BBC news in 2014 reported that a woman died from cardiac arrest that was partially triggered by cannabis poisoning.  

To prevent harmful consequences from substance abuse, the administrators will continue to maintain its strict policy regarding the possession, use and selling of marijuana on campus and advocate against drug abuse.

“[For] every students who uses, there’s always a reason,” Thompson said. “Our efforts are to find out what those reasons are and help students find out why they are making poor choices so they don't become a substance abusers who use for the wrong reasons.”

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