Study: How Cannabis Affects Students in Canada Since Legalization
April 7, 2022
by Winlaw Hall
How does cannabis really affect students? Does it impact their grades, productivity, and motivation as much as the stoner stereotype would have us believe?
In mid-2019, Christiana MacDougall and Matthew Maston sat down (remotely) with 20 university students at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick in an effort to understand “perceptions of cannabis use on students’ health, academic pursuits, and social lives” (Abstract) and how legalization has affected these perceptions.
Cannabis Benefitting Students’ Health
“I feel like when I smoke weed my vision does become better.” - Ashley
The majority of participants felt their cannabis use contributed to positive health effects, and most indicated that cannabis use supported welcome mental health outcomes, like deep sleep and the ability to achieve relaxation, even in stressful student environments like university campuses.
Other topics that arose during the conversations included most respondents stating they consumed cannabis for its associated health benefits, such as treating “chronic pain, headaches, vision problems, and promoting lung health.”
When asked to compare cannabis use with prescription drugs, students overwhelmingly saw cannabis as a safer alternative: “It’s either you’re on this hardcore drug you take every single day or when you’re having an attack versus, you know, smoking weed once a week” (Jimmy).
Student participants noted concern with smoking cannabis as a potential harm to lung health, and those students indicated they were considering switching to vaping, which they perceived to be less harmful.
Does Cannabis Affect Students’ Motivation and Social Skills?
Researchers MacDougall and Maston noted that cannabis use may be associated with poorer grades and lower social mobility, and study participants agreed (for the most part), suggesting cannabis use may lead to amotivational syndrome and a poorer quality of work and academic output.
Those same students also felt cannabis use contributed to creativity in schoolwork, opening the mind to new possibilities, and deeper connection to academic materials: “I’ll be reading a book about something I couldn’t care very much about but if I smoke and then do it, it at least makes it a little more tolerable” (Josh).
The majority of students participating in the study felt that cannabis use made it easier to socialize with others, that cannabis was safer than alcohol, and that the label “stoner” continues to be applied to cannabis users by, presumably, the straight set.
Thoughts on the Legal Marketplace
Students also disdained the legal marketplace, which they saw as too expensive: “I don’t think I know anyone that goes to the store regularly, and if they do, I think they’re getting ripped off,” and “They say it’s one thing, but you really have no idea…” (Emily).
As you might imagine, the majority of participants were not in favour of the legal marketplace, with complaints that ranged from too expensive (“I can get it for $100, you’re selling it for $200?”) to poor quality (“Don’t like the product that [retailer] offers.”).
While student opinions on cannabis use seem quite liberal, it should be noted that cannabis use is strictly regulated by the Mount Allison “Residence Life Code of Conduct,” including: no cooking with cannabis, no plants, no combustion of cannabis anywhere inside or outside, and any cannabis and equipment must be stored in an air-tight container, clearly labeled.
The world, it seems, turns more slowly than we imagine.
By Winlaw Hall