Other Drugs


What is cannabis?


Cannabis, or “Marijuana” refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant.

Nicknames: marijuana, dope, pot, grass, weed, head, mary jane, doobie, bud, ganja, hashish, hash


More than 100 compounds (or cannabinoids) exist in the cannabis plant. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are two natural compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

  • CBD: Can be extracted from hemp or cannabis. Hemp and cannabis come from the Cannabis sativa plant. Legal hemp must contain 0.3% THC or less. CBD does not produce the high sensation associated with cannabis.
  • THC: The main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation. The average cannabis strain before 2014 contained about 12% THC. Current levels may be closer to 15% to 30% and may also vary by location, according to 2020 research. 

Sources: National Institute on Drug AbuseHealthline


How is cannabis used?


Cannabis can be used in several ways: 

  • Smoked in joints (hand-rolled cigarettes)

  • Blunts (emptied cigars or cigar wrappers partially or entirely refilled with cannabis)

  • Bongs (pipes or water pipes)

  • Blended or infused into foods such as cookies, cakes, brownies, candies (known as edibles), and drinks, like tea

  • Electronic vaporizing devices (e-cigarettes or vape pens) or other vaporizers to avoid breathing smoke

  • Dabbing is the practice of smoking cannabis plant oils, concentrates, and extracts

These articles highlight how to read a cannabis package: 

  1. The Philadelphia Inquirer

  2. Rise Cannabis

Note: It’s important to understand how to read labels so you can find a product that is safer for you.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Why do people use cannabis?


Many people experience a pleasant euphoria and sense of relaxation. Other common effects, which may vary dramatically among different people, include heightened sensory perception (e.g., brighter colors), laughter, altered perception of time, and increased appetite. If marijuana is consumed in foods or beverages, these effects are somewhat delayed—usually appearing after 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Medical Use: 

The potential medicinal properties of marijuana and its components have been the subject of research and debate for decades. THC itself has proven medical benefits in particular formulations. 

Medical Cannabis Use:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Nausea
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Degenerative neurological conditions

Recreational/Mental Health Use: 

The impact of cannabis on mental health conditions is still poorly understood and inconclusive. Broadly, some cannabis strains are said to have the following effects: energizing, increased creativity, relaxing, and can help someone to fall asleep. 

As a result of these effects, some report that cannabis products offer some relief from symptoms of: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Disordered eating
  • Insomnia 

If you’re using cannabis to help with mental health symptoms, be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider and keep up with any other prescribed treatments.

Please note that enjoyable cannabis experiences are far from universal. Some people experience anxiety, fear, distrust, or panic instead of relaxation and euphoria. For example, some studies have shown that THC decreases anxiety at lower doses and increases anxiety at higher doses. When someone uses it daily, the risk of developing a psychotic disorder increases compared to people who do not use it.  Other side-effects such as fear and panic are more frequent in users who take too much or consume cannabis that has an unexpectedly high potency. 

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Library of Medicine, Healthline

What are the physical and mental effects of cannabis?

Cannabis use may have a wide range of effects, both physical and mental. Every person can experience different effects with variation in intensity and duration.  

How cannabis affects a person depends on several factors:

  • Amount taken
  • Frequency of use
  • Use with other substances (e.g., alcohol or other drugs), which could increase risk of harm
  • Mode of use (e.g., consuming edibles or products with high THC concentration can have delayed or unpredictable effects and increases the risk of overdose or poisoning)
  • Previous experience with cannabis or other drugs
  • Biology (e.g., genes, DNA)
  • Sex (e.g., women or people assigned female at birth may experience more dizziness after using cannabis compared to men or people assigned male at birth)

Physical Effects:

  • Breathing problems. 
  • Cannabis smoke irritates the lungs, and people who smoke cannabis frequently can have the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco.
  • Increased heart rate. 
  • Cannabis raises heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This effect may increase the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart problems may be at higher risk.
  • Problems with child development during and after pregnancy. 
  • Intense nausea and vomiting. 

Mental Effects:

  • Temporary hallucinations
  • Temporary paranoia
  • Worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia—a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking.

Linked to other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens. However, study findings have been mixed.


Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute on Drug Abuse

Short-term effects:
When a person smokes cannabis, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. 

Cannabis over activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the "high" that people feel. 

Other effects include:

  • altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • altered sense of time
  • changes in mood
  • impaired body movement
  • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • impaired memory
  • hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  • delusions (when taken in high doses)
  • psychosis (risk is highest with regular use of high potency marijuana)

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Longer-term effects 
Recent studies have shown that Cannabis affects brain development. When people begin using cannabis as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, learning functions, and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Researchers are still studying how long these effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse




Is cannabis legal on campus?

No. While it is legal for medical and recreational use for adults (21+) in Rhode Island under the 2022 Rhode Island Cannabis Act, the 1989 amendments to the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act require colleges and universities to ban illicit substances on school grounds or forfeit their federal funding. 

The Brown Student Code of Conduct states, “Brown University prohibits illicit drug activity and/or paraphernalia used in illicit drug activity by any of its students, on its premises, or as part of any of its activities..If living off-campus, students are subject to all federal, state and local laws, as well as University standards of student conduct.”

Sources: Brown University Student Code of Conduct, Rhode Island ACLU, Forbes

Is cannabis addictive?

Cannabis use can lead to the development of a substance use disorder, a medical illness in which the person is unable to stop using even though it's causing health and social problems in their life. Research suggests that between 9-30% of those who use cannabis may develop some degree of marijuana use disorder. People who begin using cannabis before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.

It’s important to note that, “high potency” cannabis is considered to be anything over 10% THC. Use of high potency cannabis is associated with a number of outcomes, including greater risk of cannabis use disorder and adverse mental health outcomes.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Why is synthetic cannabis particularly dangerous?

Synthetic cannabinoids (i.e., synthetic cannabis) refer to a growing number of human-made mind-altering chemicals sprayed on dried, shredded plant material or vaporized to produce a high. Synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes misleadingly called synthetic marijuana (or fake weed) because they act on the same brain cell receptors as THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana.
Nicknames: Spice, K2

Synthetic cannabinoids can be addictive. Behavioral therapies and medications have not specifically been tested for treatment of addiction to these products. 

Overdoses can occur and can cause:

  • toxic reactions
  • raised blood pressure
  • reduced blood supply to the heart
  • kidney damage
  • seizures


Deaths can occur when dangerous synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are added without the user knowing.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse

How do I recognize a problem with cannabis?

Common signs of a cannabis use disorder:

  • Using more cannabis than intended
  • Trying but failing to quit using cannabis
  • Spending a lot of time using cannabis
  • Craving cannabis
  • Using cannabis even though it causes problems at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to use cannabis despite social or relationship problems.
  • Giving up important activities with friends and family in favor of using cannabis.
  • Using cannabis in high-risk situations, such as while driving a car.
  • Continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems.
  • Needing to use more cannabis to get the same high.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping cannabis use.


Are you a Brown student interested in speaking to a Health Educator about your substance use? Request an Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) education appointment to discuss your current and potential future use, questions, and concerns. 

Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Library of Medicine

What is a tolerance break?


Cannabis is used both recreationally and medicinally. According to a growing body of evidence, regular cannabis users can develop tolerance to this substance. Tolerance can develop when your body is regularly exposed to a substance, has become accustomed to the substance, and you no longer experience the same effects. According to one study, performance impairment during cannabis intoxication is reduced in frequent cannabis users due to tolerance. If this happens, taking a "tolerance break" may help you avoid or reduce a high tolerance for cannabis. Cannabis dependency is linked to cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1R) downregulation. The more CB1R you have in your system, the more dependent and tolerant you are of cannabis. The activation of CB1 receptors in the brain causes THC's psychoactive effects. THC acts directly on the receptors, and when using too much THC, it can flood the receptors, resulting in tolerance. This is one of the reasons you may need to take a cannabis break to reduce your CB1R receptor density.

Taking a cannabis break can be referred to as a T-break. Tolerance is represented by the letter "T." This is the most effective method for lowering cannabis tolerance. A t-break could help you save money and also keep balance. A true tolerance break should be at least 21 days long, since it takes around three weeks or more for THC to leave your system. (That’s because THC bonds to fat, which is stored in the body longer.)


University of Vermont T-Break Guide (FREE).

Sources: Journal of American College Health, University of Vermont, National Library of Medicine, WebMD

How do I help a friend who's having trouble with drugs or alcohol?

If you are concerned about a friend's drug or alcohol use, this page contains information about different ways to help them. 

Related Links

The Good Drugs Guide 
This British harm-reduction web site provides extensive information on marijuana, including the basics, dangers, debates over legalization, and links.

Marijuana Anonymous   
MA uses the basic 12-step recovery program for people who are addicted to marijuana. Online groups are available, as well as publications, frequently asked questions and 12 questions to determine if marijuana is a problem in your life. The literature section has stories by teens, help for loved ones of marijuana addicts, and the dangers of cross addiction.

e-toke is a free, anonymous assessment tool that provides individualized feedback on the role marijuana is playing in your life. You can also see how your use compares with other college students. If you would like to talk to someone about your use, you can call Health Education at 863-2794 for an appointment or click here for other resources

MEDLINEplus Health Information 
This search page will give you links to marijuana facts, prevention and screening, research, treatment and statistics. Fact sheets available in Spanish.

National Institute on Drug Abuse 
This site has statistics, drug information and recent research reports on marijuana.

Online Drug Screening 
This confidential and anonymous survey gives you feedback about the likely risks of your alcohol and drug use.

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