Do uni students know enough about the effects of drugs?

There appears to be a lot of misinformation out there...

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Last week, the NCPIC team had a new experience, finding ourselves amid the foot traffic of 5000 young students at an event for one of Australia’s largest university campuses. With an interactive stall, themed ‘keep off the grass’ and an ‘impossible ladder’ attraction challenging young people to climb to the top without falling to the grass below, we had the opportunity to talk to a large number of students about cannabis, what they know, and most interestingly, what they don’t know about the effects of drugs.

Who uses marijuana?

The 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey Report shows the number of people who have used cannabis peaks between the ages of 18 and 29. This basically means the main answer to the question, ‘who uses marijuana?’, is young people around typical uni student age.

With this in mind, it would be natural to assume that young people have some concept of what is happening to their bodies when they ingest cannabis –  and use that knowledge as a basis for making the decision not to try the drug. But it seems for quite a significant number of students that we encountered, this was not necessarily the case.

Throughout the day, one of the questions we were repeatedly asked was if there are any side effects of marijuana – this was after we cleared up what exactly cannabis is, and related it to more common terms like ‘marijuana’, ‘weed’ or ‘pot’.

When we replied with information about links to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, ties with increased likelihood of developing respiratory illnesses, and decreases in motivation and memory, a surprising portion of these young people were shocked. One medical student was particularly gob smacked, saying he thought there were no real side effects of marijuana use at all.

Perhaps the second most shocking question was about the law – ‘is marijuana legal in Australia?’ or rather, the repeated statements of, ‘but I thought it is legal to use marijuana in Australia’ or ‘if you only grow a few plants it’s not against the law, my dad told me’. While this lack of knowledge of marijuana facts was a bit of a concern, realistically, it’s not completely astonishing, given the intense media coverage of the changing laws in countries like the USA, and the ongoing legalisation of medicinal cannabis debate in Australia. What is a potential worry is that if these young people don’t cotton on to what the real legal consequences are for possession and growing, they could one day find themselves rejected from some jobs despite their degrees, and unwelcome to travel in some countries (ironically including the US).

Drug helpline...

On a more positive note, one of the best things about uni and especially living on campus or nearby (other than the stellar education) is the lifelong friends made and that sense of community that is built. This was definitely in full swing during this event, when we had a number of students approach us to talk through some of the worries they have about family members or friends, arm themselves with more information, and get details about our drug helpline (1800 30 40 50) so they can seek further support. The team of trained counsellors at the cannabis helpline do a fantastic job, and the students we spoke with were grateful to have another avenue for information and support.

Though an incredibly positive experience, the takeaway message from this day was that kids need to be more exposed to drug education while they are at home and during high school. Our recent survey found that Aussie parents believe they hold the primary responsibility for educating their kids about drugs, but clearly some information is slipping through the cracks. And ensuring those gaps in knowledge are plugged with accurate information before teenagers venture out into the world, is the best weapon a parent can give their child against the possible dangers of illegal and dangerous substances.

If you’re a uni student or parent and want more information, our links below are a good start when it comes to building your knowledge of cannabis, the health-related effects of drugs and some of the other consequences. If you need some support or you’re worried about a friend or family member, give our team at the cannabis helpline a call between 11 and 8pm weekdays, on 1800 30 40 50. 

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