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In a recent study of 7 different universities in the US, researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis found that although cannabis use among undergraduates has increased in 6 of the 7 universities studied, cannabis use has increased most at an “undisclosed large public University” in Oregon.

The study focused on the rate of cannabis use by undergrads currently in comparison to before Oregon legalized cannabis in 2015. In the study, researchers compared self-reported surveys indicating marijuana use, with results from the unnamed Oregon University being based on survey results from 2014, in which 588 undergraduate students participated, and in 2016, when 1115 students participated in the surveys. They found that it was only in the group that also self-reported binge drinking that there was a drastic increase in use.

Researchers concluded: “Rates of Oregon college students’ marijuana use increased (relative to that of students’ in other states) following recreational marijuana legislation in 2015, but only for those who reported recent heavy use of alcohol. Such alcohol misuse may be a proxy for vulnerabilities to substance use or lack of prohibitions (e.g., cultural) against it.”

Of course, relying on self-reported surveys will always be an imperfect approach, but an approach nonetheless in understanding how things like recreational marijuana legalization effects marijuana use, especially in younger populations. The researchers recognized that “Compared to research on alcohol and other drug use, there is indeed less evidence of harm from marijuana use,” but expressed concern that “there are negative health and educational consequences, particularly in cases of adolescent onset, or long-term, heavy use.” They also noted in their findings that as of the publish date, there have been no studies on how recreational marijuana legalization in Oregon has impacted use. 

As researchers pointed out, how legalization will affect minors and young adults, especially in college environments where experimentation is part of the experience and there is less adult supervision, can be important to better understand. At the same time, it could be argued that cannabis use is a much safer alternative to the binge-drinking culture that’s so common in undergraduate programs across the US. More research is needed.