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Cannabis does not interfere with college students’ academic performance or increase rates of substance abuse, unless combined with other drugs, a new study reports.

The study, recently published in the Journal of American College Health, investigates how patterns of drug use impact college students’ mental health and academic performance. Researchers from the University of Florida at Gainesville recruited 263 undergraduate students who had smoked weed at least three times in the prior month. Each subject was asked to anonymously report how much alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs they regularly consume. 

Researchers compared this self-reported data with students’ academic records and used an online survey to determine whether subjects qualified for a cannabis use disorder (CUD) diagnosis. Out of all the subjects, the highest rates of weed use were seen among students who only used cannabis as well as those who used weed along with booze and illegal drugs. But although both of these groups smoked a similar amount of bud, the polysubstance users were the only ones to experience negative outcomes.

The students who exclusively used cannabis were far less likely to suffer poor academic performance or other negative consequences than those who combined pot with booze, cigarettes, and other addictive drugs. The cannabis-only users were also less likely to qualify for a CUD diagnosis than polydrug users, even though they got high as frequently as students who regularly used at least four different drugs.

“Overall, the current findings suggest that (1) alcohol use is prevalent among cannabis-using college students and (2) concurrent polysubstance use of four or more substances is associated with increased risk of cannabis-and academic-related problems including CUD symptom severity, skipping classes, and lower GPA,” the study authors wrote, according to NORML. “Risks associated with sole cannabis use were low compared to concurrent substance use.”

“These findings may indicate that although cannabis-only users use more frequently than other groups, this group may be at lower risk for negative consequences associated with use compared to all-substance users,” the authors concluded. “This is in line with previous findings showing that polysubstance use is related to more negative consequences compared to single use.”

Other current research studies have demonstrated that most of the mental and physical health consequences commonly associated with cannabis are actually attributable to alcohol or other drugs. Researchers have also thoroughly disproven myths claiming that weed decreases motivation or acts as a “gateway drug.” On the contrary, researchers have found that access to legal weed is associated with a decrease in alcohol abuse among young adults.

Based on the findings of these studies, researchers are encouraging school counselors and harm reduction specialists to focus on polydrug abuse instead of worrying about weed on its own. “When addressing cannabis use among college students, clinicians should assess and target multiple substances in addition to cannabis,” the authors of the present study recommended. “Hence, efforts aimed at preventing the initiation of additional substance use may be warranted.”