Marijuana use among college-aged adults is the highest it has been since the early 1980s, a recent study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported.

But Wisconsin experts say the increase isn’t being driven solely by young adults seeking recreational drug use, citing the pandemic and mental health as other contributing factors, according to NBC15.

When COVID-19 lockdowns swept the country last year, college students found themselves locked in their homes — even when attending classes. This lack of social exposure was associated with an increase in depression, anxiety and stress, a 2020 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study reported. To cope, many students turned to substances such as marijuana to alleviate these symptoms.

There is further evidence to support more students are using marijuana as a result of the pandemic. Jenny Damask, University Health Services program manager of alcohol and drug misuse prevention and recovery, provided data from the University of Wisconsin’s AlcoholEdu course, which indicated 13% of students reported using cannabis within two weeks of taking the course in 2020.

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In 2021, AlcoholEdu switched to a more comprehensive system which asked about more types of cannabis. The results showed 77% of students said they had not used cannabis within two weeks of taking the course, indicating a potential increase in usage among the survey population. 

In the state of Wisconsin, medical CBD use under the age of 21 is illegal and any use of recreational cannabis is illegal, according to state law. But this law is not shared by neighboring states Illinois and Michigan, leading many underaged students to cross the border to buy marijuana, NBC15 reported.

Madison city ordinances dictate cannabis can be used in public spaces — it just can’t be used around a school or be bought or sold, due to ordinances passed in November 2020.

Some businesses in Madison sell glass products meant for smoking marijuana, but they do not sell marijuana, as required by city law. According to Up in Smoke vape shop, sales of glass products have increased due to the pandemic, but this increase spans every age group — not just students.

Regardless of the reasons why more young adults may be using marijuana, there are resources on the UW campus for those experiencing mental health problems, Damask said.

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“I think it’s important for students to know that they are not alone in feeling stress and getting help is very normal,” Damask said. “Working with someone to identify self-care or coping strategies could be really beneficial.”

If UW students are struggling with mental health issues or excessive marijuana use, there are resources available on campus to help. UHS offers free alcohol and drug assessments for students who want to speak to a professional about their substance use.

UHS Mental Health Services also offers a group therapy program called “Using Wisely,” where students can learn mindfulness skills and get help for substance use. More information can be found on the UHS website.