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Parents, Guardians, Advocates

Transitioning to College

College is a time of transition, for both students and families! We've created a resource to help you better understand the changes your student is experiencing as well as to learn more about alcohol's complicated relationship with college students. This booklet also includes conversation tips on how to talk with students about hard topics, such as alcohol, drug use, and other important information to help keep themselves and others safe.

Talking to your College Student About Cannabis/Marijuana

Research shows that the important people in students' lives are very influential on the substance use decisions made while attending college. Messaging you provide about cannabis/marijuana can contribute to students maintaining abstinence, refusing offers to use, and even making changes in their use.

Although cannabis is illegal at the Federal level, Illinois has legalized cannabis for non-medical or personal use. Yet, to stay compliant with Drug-Free Schools and Campus Regulations (which are federal), the use and possession of cannabis on all US college campuses remain illegal.

While there are numerous topics related to cannabis you could talk with your student about, here are 3 highlights we think it is worth parents knowing about.

1. Marijuana in 2020 is much more potent than it was in the past.

In the 1970s, marijuana averaged 1½% THC. In the 1980s? 2-3% THC. The average THC potency in the US is now over 13%, and, in states with legal marijuana, potency tends to be even higher, including averages well over 20%. This higher concentration of THC increases risk of addiction, onset of psychosis, and other potential harms/risks. So, although some people say it’s “just weed,” it stopped being “just weed” a long time ago.

2. Marijuana use is associated with impaired cognitive abilities and poorer academic outcomes.

The more frequently a person uses cannabis/marijuana, the more there are decreases in attention, concentration, and memory. A person who uses on a daily basis requires 28 days of abstinence for these cognitive abilities to return to normal. Marijuana use is associated with lower GPA, more skipped classes, and taking longer to graduate. While both alcohol and marijuana are associated with poorer academic outcomes, the effects of marijuana use on academics are even more pronounced.

3. Marijuana is addictive.

There are clear diagnostic criteria for addiction (called “Cannabis Use Disorder” and for cannabis withdrawal (which include depressed mood, anxiety, sleep problems, appetite problems, and headaches). If your student says marijuana seemingly helps with any of those things because (a) they see these issues emerge when they stop using and (b) go away when they resume use, that’s likely more a case of making withdrawal symptoms stop by resuming substance use.

This information was put together by Dr. Jason Kilmer, an Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington (UW). He has worked extensively with college students and student groups around alcohol and other drug prevention programming both at UW and on campuses across the nation. We are fortunate to have him serving as a consultant/trainer to enhance our communities’ efforts to address substance use.


1. ElSohly, M.A., Mehmedic, Z., Foster, S., Gon, C., Chandra, S., & Church, J.C. (2016). Changes in cannabis potency over the last 2 decades (1995-2014) – Analysis of current data in the United States. Biological Psychiatry, 79, 613-619
2. Washington State Marijuana Impact Report, Volume 2 (2017).
3. Arria, A.M., Caldeira, K.M., Bugbee, B.A., Vincent, K.B., O’Grady, K.E. (2015). The academic consequences of marijuana use during college. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 564-575.
4. Meda, S.A., Gueorguieva, R.V., Pittman, B., Rosen, R.R., Aslanzadeh, F., Tennen, H., et al. (2017). Longitudinal influence of alcohol and marijuana use on academic performance in college students. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0172213.
5. Lee, C. M., Neighbors, C.,& Woods, B. A. (2007). Marijuana motives: Young adults’ reasons for using marijuana. Addictive Behaviors, 32, 1384–1394.

Information compiled by Jason Kilmer, Ph.D. for BNCCC through UW’s BASICS Innovations Group

Campus Well E-magazine

All students at Illinois State University receive access to an online health and wellness information portal called Campus Well. This portal is a great resource for Illinois State University-related information, program, and services as well as general health topics. Information is written for students by students and is reviewed by a medical review board prior to publishing. A special version for important people in students' lives is available, called the Student Advocate portal. This version has the same information as the student portal, but with additional information on how to support students for important people in their lives such as parents, advocates, and guardians.

Access the Campus Well advocate portal.