Pot, weed, ganja – it all refers to a magical plant that stoners praise known as marijuana. It has two primary functions: part of the plant can be turned into hemp which in turn can be made into fabric, and part of it can be smoked. For potheads, it’s the latter function that is of interest.

“Some people smoke because the people they want to be with smoke,” explains Dr. Kris Gerhardt, a Leadership professor who teaches psychology. “If you want to involve yourself in a social group, you have to make yourself more like that group.” To put it simply, many users begin their affair with marijuana because of a desire to fit in.

“I started because friends started,” says “Thomas,” a first-year Criminology student.

“Everyone was doing it.”

But not all students started because of peer pressure.

“Somebody I trusted offered me the opportunity, I evaluated it, and I tried it,” says “Jacob,” a second-year Contemporary Studies student. “Socially, it’s something to do at a party. When you got nothing to do, it makes almost anything feel like something.”

But marijuana, unlike nicotine or alcohol, seems to be difficult to become addicted to, at least from a chemical standpoint.

“As far as marijuana being addictive, it certainly seems far less addictive then smoking tobacco,” says Dr. James LeClair, the program coordinator of the Health Studies. “Some people could grow dependent for its anxiety mitigating effects, but that has more to do with an ‘addiction’ to the relief of the anxiety.”

As with inhaling smoke from any recreational substance, like marijuana or a tobacco cigarette, there are associated respiratory problems, though experts are still debating how harmful marijuana smoke actually is. A 2007 study from New Zealand’s Medical Research Institute suggests that while pot smokers do not have any significant increased risk of developing a chronic respiratory illness like emphysema, a marijuana joint blocks the flow of air to the lungs as much as smoking five tobacco cigarettes. A 2003 study demonstrates that long-term marijuana smokers actually have a lower rate of chronic respiratory illness – something that the author suggests might be a result of differences in regular marijuana use versus regular tobacco use. While a regular cigarette smoker may puff every few hours, the typical regular marijuana user inhales less smoke less often.

“I usually smoke at least once a day,” says Jacob. “It’s just part of my day.”

Some would argue smoking marijuana is part of university/college student culture. Students are supposed to study and work hard, but at that point in a person’s life, they’re also supposed to go try new things that they’ll talk about later in life.

Others see it as enhancing one’s life experience, and whatever they may choose to do in that space and time.

“It’s like being in a fort as a kid,” says Jacob. “Everything you do in that fort is fun no matter what it is.”

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