'Marijuana saved my life'

Ferris psychology junior Irma Collins, 20, first tried marijuana when she was 16 years old.

Depressed and suicidal, Collins said the drug—or plant as she prefers to call it—saved her life.

“Marijuana made a huge difference in my life,” Collins said. “I was able to see my depression for what it actually was. I was suicidal then I smoked a plant and realized what a bad idea [suicide] was. I’ve been an advocate for [marijuana] ever since.”

Collins isn’t alone in recognizing marijuana’s medicinal qualities. Increasing legitimization as a viable treatment for medical conditions has resulted in a shift in attitudes toward the drug, which has been outlawed by the United States federal government since 1970, according to Ferris social psychology professor Dr. Christopher Redker.

“If you look at U.S. citizens’ attitudes toward legalizing marijuana use as a whole, they seem to be roughly comparable to those during the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Redker said. “However, for college-aged Americans, an upward trend of support has occurred since then.”

At 16, Collins was in high school when she first smoked marijuana. She wasn’t pressured into trying the drug but rather sought out a source herself in an effort to cope with her emotional issues.

“When I first tried marijuana, it changed my whole world,” Collins said. “It made it seem like everything I had been told about marijuana before was a lie.”

Collins admitted feeling conflicted prior to trying marijuana for the first time. She saw how “happy” it made all her friends, but her D.A.R.E. training held her back.

Founded in 1983, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) was established as a drug control strategy to complement the federal government’s War on Drugs. Students who enrolled in the program signed a pledge not to do drugs.

Collins completed the D.A.R.E. program twice before entering high school.

“Being a military child, they had us do it both in fifth grade and in seventh grade,” she said. “Both times I was used to hearing stuff like ‘All these drugs are bad. Don’t ever try them. They’ll ruin your life.’”

According to Redker, research indicates levels of marijuana use did not significantly differ as a function of whether individuals participated in D.A.R.E.

“What is most troubling about programs such as D.A.R.E. is that they may lead to substantial adverse effects—they may actually increase the use of drugs that they are intended to reduce or prevent,” Redker said.

Like her D.A.R.E. instructors, Collins’ parents were vehemently opposed to marijuana use. However, she doesn’t hold it against them.

“My parents were against it because they had been told their whole lives how bad it is,” Collins said. “Neither of them had ever tried it. Like a lot of Americans, they believe it will ruin their lives.”

Research suggests widening differences in attitudes between younger and older Americans, according to Redker.

Collins acknowledged marijuana’s growing popularity and thus the shifting attitudes regarding legalization.

“I feel like a lot of people, especially in our generation, are coming to the realization that even though we’ve been told our whole lives that marijuana is bad, that that’s just not true,” she said.

Even people who don’t use marijuana are becoming more accepting of it, according to Collins, who scoffs at the theory that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” She said she has no interest in other drugs and is “just happy finally being happy.”

Like any drug, Collins said marijuana affects people differently. In addition to her improved mood, she has witnessed marijuana making users more social and productive.

Collins said the idea of a “grungy, lazy pothead” is nothing more than a stereotype. She believes she breaks the stoner mold with her high academic achievement.

“Side effects vary from person to person,” Collins said. “But I think it’s something everyone should at least explore.”

Now equipped with other tools to cope with her depression, Collins said she doesn’t use marijuana nearly as frequently, but still appreciates what it did for her and wants people to understand when it is appropriate to use marijuana.

“Marijuana helped me get the mental strength to confront my emotional problems,” she said. “It’s helped me make a lot of progress rising up from what I was. I’d like to see marijuana as a free source for anyone who is going through anything. It’s changed a lot of people’s lives for the better—emotionally and mentally.”