Skip to main content
COVID-19 Support Get Urgent Help

Call 911 - You May Save a Life
Penn State’s Responsible Action Protocol and Pennsylvania’s Medical Amnesty Law protect students from prosecution for consumption or possession of alcohol or drugs when they seek help for a peer.
Learn More
Person dialing 911 on cell phone looking into bedroom

What is this all about?

Empowering you to be more informed when making decisions about your physical health, mental health, and overall wellness.

This website primarily uses the word cannabis, which refers to marijuana, weed, pot, and other substances derived from the Cannabis sativa plant that contain substantial amounts of THC.

Is cannabis legal?

Several states have enacted recreational and medical cannabis programs and laws. Here in Pennsylvania, individuals who have verified that they have a qualifying diagnosis are able to obtain cannabis products from a licensed dispensary.

The recreational use of cannabis products (consuming marijuana without possession of a Medical Marijuana certification) remains illegal in Pennsylvania, and those found in possession or under the influence may face legal charges. Legality and consequences may differ among campus, the State College Borough, and surrounding municipalities. Find out more about marijuana and the law through Student Legal Services.

Even for students who have a Medical Marijuana card in Pennsylvania, the possession, use, or distribution of cannabis and cannabis-related products while on Penn State’s campus remains a federal offense and is in violation of the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, as well as Penn State’s Student Code of Conduct.

The consequences related to any code of conduct violation are separate from, and in addition to, any legal consequences the student may face. More information about the student conduct process and student conduct advisers is available on their website.

Applying for a job or internship? Cannabis can stay in your system for up to 30 days, meaning it can be detected on a drug test even weeks after use.

Will I get in trouble for driving high?

Plan ahead to avoid the need to drive.  If you need to go somewhere call a rideshare or have a sober friend do the driving.

Data shows that the risk of being in a motor vehicle accident doubles after smoking cannabis. This is because the effects of cannabis use include a lack of attention, slower reaction time, difficulty making decisions, and impaired coordination. 

It could take up to 4 hours for it to be safe to drive after having finished smoking a cannabis product. The timeframe is longer if you have consumed edibles and will vary based on the amount ingested and the THC level.

Driving after using cannabis is dangerous. Cannabis is the most prevalent illicit drug found in drivers who have been involved in car crashes, including fatal crashes.

Learn more about the legal consequences of cannabis-related offenses and the cost of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Is cannabis safe?

Cannabis products have not been rigorously tested for widespread efficacy in the treatment of physical or behavioral health concerns.

While products distributed under the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana program are subject to testing on a variety of factors such as the presence of heavy metals, there is no regulatory guidance or threshold for potency. As a result, products may vary widely in their THC content and could have a variety of unwanted side effects.

Because of their varying potency and methods of consumption, medical cannabis products in Pennsylvania are typically dispensed under the supervision of a pharmacist who can provide important information about effective and recommended doses. Consuming a medical cannabis product outside of these guidelines may result in undesired effects.

For cannabis products that are distributed through an illegal or otherwise unregulated market, there is no requirement for testing or oversight. These products may have been transported from a state with fewer regulatory requirements or even cultivated illegally. As a result, there is no guarantee that they are safe to consume, and side effects will vary.

Everyone’s body makeup and chemistry are different, so there is no way to know for sure how cannabis will affect each person. Further, there is no way to know for sure how different strains, ingestion methods, amounts, or concentrations will affect someone, even if they have used the exact same cannabis product before.

The human brain is actively developing until your mid-twenties. The final areas of the brain to develop are involved with problem-solving, decision-making, focus, attention, learning, and memory. Cannabis use disrupts the growth process of these parts of the brain, leading to lifelong difficulties.

More details about how cannabis affects mental health, the brain, pain, heart health, and more.

What are side effects of cannabis?

There are many concerns students experience due to cannabis use. These include:

  • Abbreviated sleep cycle
  • Fatigue
  • Increased anxiety (particularly social anxiety)
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression episodes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Lack of focus
  • Low motivation
  • Reduced attention
  • Impaired problem solving
  • Slowed motor coordination

These side effects have been found to interfere with academic performance, relationships with others, and other general daily life responsibilities.

How can I safely drink alcohol and use cannabis (or other drugs)?
  • You can’t. It is never safe to mix substances. Mixing alcohol with other drugs is harmful to your health and could be life-threatening. Plan ahead to stay in control.
  • Practice your drink refusal skills before going out.
  • Only drink from containers that you open or drinks that you pour.
Drug Increased effects when mixed with alchohol
Cannabis Impaired coordination, impaired judgment, reduced reaction time, confusion, difficulty concentrating
Xanax and other anxiety medications Drowsiness, dizziness, increased risk of overdose, slowed or difficulty breathing, impaired condition, unusual behavior, memory problems
Adderall and other ADHD medications Dizziness, drowsiness, impaired concentration, possible risk of heart problems, liver damage
Depression medications Drowsiness, dizziness, increased risk of overdose
Over the counter pain relievers Upset stomach, stomach and intestinal bleeding, ulcers, liver damage, rapid heartbeat

What about Delta-8?

What is Delta-8?
  • Delta-8 THC is a psychoactive substance found in the cannabis plant. Concentrated amounts of Delta-8 THC are used in products such as edibles, gummies, oils, and vapes.  
  • Delta-8 products are at the center of a continued debate regarding their legality.
  • Regardless of legal status, possession of Delta-8 is prohibited on Penn State property, and those in violation may face consequences.
  • Looking for a job or internship? Delta-8 products do, in fact, contain THC and will show up on a drug test as a cannabis product.
Is Delta-8 safe?
  • Delta-8 is not subject to any federal or state laws that would regulate their production, and they have not been evaluated for their safety or use. This makes Delta-8 effects and safety challenging to research.
  • This means that if someone uses a product from the same brand at one point in time, their next purchase of that exact same product may have a completely different potency and chemical composition.
  • Know before you go: Marketing guidelines for these products are also difficult to regulate. Products containing Delta-8 may be ambiguously labeled as items that contain “hemp,” or “CBD.”
  • Researchers have found that Delta-8 and other hemp products purchased from smoke shops often contain heavy metals and inaccurate dosing information.

What impacts cannabis and your health?

Will cannabis help me sleep?

Sleep is one of the most valuable resources available to a college student! Fulfilling and restful sleep supports your immune system, enriches mental health, reduces stress, improves focus and concentration, and even helps you condense memories and subjects learned from the day prior.

People often hear that cannabis will help them fall asleep quicker and get more restful sleep. Cannabis may help some people fall asleep quickly due to its relaxation properties, but it actually interrupts a person’s sleep cycles. Specifically, using cannabis shortens your REM sleep cycle, which is your dream cycle of sleep. Over only just a short period of time, this changes a person's overall sleep pattern and leaves people feeling more fatigued upon waking the next day.

When people feel tired the next day (due to their restless sleep the night prior), they have the perception that they are still tired and, therefore, need more cannabis to help them sleep that night... when, in fact, they need to avoid cannabis in order to reset their sleep patterns.

Continued use of cannabis products results in a tolerance. Cannabis builds quickly in your system because of how it is stored (it bonds to fat cells). For someone who uses cannabis most days of the week, cannabis can stay in your body for about 3 weeks (or even up to 30 days).

This tolerance also means that it takes more cannabis each time to experience the same relaxation effects required to fall asleep. 

For someone who uses cannabis most days, if they decide to stop, there is typically a withdrawal period. The most commonly reported withdrawal symptom for a person who stopped using cannabis is sleep disruption and high anxiety (which- you guessed it- significantly affects someone’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep). Because of this, many people will return to cannabis use, and repeat the cycle several times over.

Will cannabis help my anxiety?
  • Anxiety is something we physiologically experience. It is associated with increased heart rate, increased respiration rate, increased blood pressure (this is what makes someone “flush” or turn red), shakiness, and difficulty focusing.
  • For many users, cannabis has a short-term, anxiety-reducing impact on the body and mind. 
  • Within a few minutes after using cannabis your heart rate increases from 20 to 50 beats per minute, meaning it actually enhances your body’s sensation of anxiety.
  • Withdrawal symptoms start only one day after using cannabis. The number one withdrawal symptom is high anxiety.
  • It becomes common to mistake the anxiety from withdrawal as further proof of “bad anxiety” and “needing” cannabis to manage it. The cycle continues and there is no improvement in anxiety levels. Unfortunately, for most people, the anxiety they tried to fix with cannabis just gets worse over time.
  • One of the hallmark problems with anxiety disorders is avoiding situations that cause anxiety. However, the more people avoid situations that make them anxious, the more likely they are to experience an increase in overall anxiety. 
  • Using cannabis makes avoidance very easy and enjoyable (avoiding difficult conversations, complicated social situations, etc.). By avoiding- instead of coping with- these stressful scenarios, anxiety intensifies.
  • While many people use cannabis for short term relief from anxious feelings, cannabis can also cause or worsen anxiety symptoms and disorders. Cannabis Induced Anxiety Disorder is a mental health diagnosis in the DSM-5-TR
Can cannabis help my mental health?

There is some evidence for the specific, medically prescribed use of cannabis to treat a small number of mental- or behavioral- health concerns in the short-term. These treatments manage symptoms only as long as cannabis use continues and do not result in recovery from the mental health concerns. Ongoing use of cannabis (which may be necessary to keep symptoms at bay) typically results in needing an increased dosage schedule, as well as the potential for unwanted side effects.

Research shows little evidence that cannabis is effective for treating depressive disorders and symptoms. In fact, the scientific literature suggests that ingested cannabis likely leads to the development and worsening of depressive symptoms.   

Several studies indicate that cannabis use can worsen bipolar disorder by causing more manic episodes and increasing the severity of the episodes. 

Research shows that using cannabis to escape from uncomfortable emotions, results in increased general anxiety, social anxiety, psychotic symptoms, low motivation, memory problems, decision-making, and legal issues (which ultimately increases stress levels!).  

Ongoing use of cannabis to cope with emotions can also lead to addiction.

But I don’t use that much. I’m not addicted or anything.

While there are some reported short-term benefits to many concerns after using cannabis, repeated use for short-term gains eventually creates a series of longer-term problems.

It does not take a long time for these problems to present. [Enter info here about frequency/quantity of use before problems arise]

Students report that they use cannabis for anxiety, sleep, and focus.

Interested in making changes?

Everyone else is using cannabis, right?

No! In fact, 53% of undergraduate students surveyed at University Park reported never using cannabis, and only 23% of students surveyed had used a cannabis product in the last 30 days (February 2022).

Among the graduate student population, 57% of the students surveyed at University Park reported never using cannabis, and only 13% had used a cannabis product in the last 30 days (February 2022).

Most students inaccurately perceive that their peers are using more than they are.

Humans are driven to “go with the group” and do what others do as a means of survival. Sometimes this group influence works in our favor (survival!), while other times it might unknowingly be harmful.

I’m positive I want to change my cannabis use.
  • Collegiate Recovery Community
    • For students in recovery or who know someone in recovery, this program coordinates a wide range of activities and travel opportunities, and offers academic advocacy, student conduct advocacy, admissions advocacy, and a supportive community.
  • Health Promotion & Wellness Marijuana Intervention Program (MIP)
    • Students concerned about their use can sign up for this free personalized 2-session program to assess their use and learn harm reduction techniques to reduce the negative consequences of cannabis.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
    • CAPS provides short-term outpatient treatment for full-time, registered students for a range of mental health, co-occurring and substance use disorders. CAPS will also work with students who are in crisis to assist with urgent needs or those who need help obtaining a higher level of care when indicated. To receive services at CAPS for AOD (Alcohol and Other Drug) concerns, please start by calling to schedule a phone screening appointment at 814-863-0395.
  • UHS or other medical provider
    • UHS is a comprehensive medical outpatient clinic for students which will address medically urgent problems to ongoing concerns. They also provide a 24/7 advice nurse line and online scheduling.

Other Treatment Options:

  • The Retreat
    • The Retreat offers both mental health and substance use treatment with multiple outpatient levels of care: Intensive Outpatient (IOP), Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), and comprehensive mental health programming.
  • Crossroads
    • Offers group, IOP (Intensive Outpatient), and co-occurring disorder long-term care. In walking distance to campus.
  • SAMHSA’s Treatment Locator
    • This is a national database to find all levels of care; you can use the link or call 1-800-662-HELP
  • Addiction Treatment Locator, Assessment, and Standards Platform (ATLAS):
    • This resource can help you find treatment options for a variety of levels of care and help you filter by things such as eligible funding sources. 
I’m thinking about changing my cannabis use, but I’m really not sure.
  • ScreenU
    • This tool offers personalized, non-judgmental feedback, as well as nearby support resources
  • SMART Recovery
    • This free drop-in group teaches tools to change to improve problematic alcohol and drug use focusing on a Four Point Program: 1) Building and maintaining motivation, 2) Coping with urges, 3) Managing thoughts, feelings, and actions, and 4) Living a balanced life. 
  • Health Promotion & Wellness Marijuana Intervention Program (MIP)
    • Students concerned about their use can sign up for this free personalized 2-session program to assess their use and learn harm reduction techniques to reduce the negative consequences of cannabis.

Mixing alcohol and drugs

Driving under the influence of cannabis

  • Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute, University of Washington, Learn about marijuana. 2020 
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What you need to know about marijuana use and driving.  April 13, 2017. 
  • Lacey, J, Kelley-Baker, T., Berning, A., Romano, E., Rameriez, A., Yao, J….& Compton, R. (2016). Drug and alcohol crash risk study:  A case-control study (Report No. DOT HS 812 255). Washington, DC:  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 
  • Hartman & Huestis (2013). Cannabis effects on driving skills, Clin Chem 2013. Mar: 59(3): 478-92.   

Cannabis and depression

  • Black, N. (2019). Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis.  Lancet Psychiatry 6(12): 995-1010 
  • Borodovsky, J. & Budney, A. (2018). Cannabis regulatory science: risk-benefit considerations for mental disorders. International Review of Psychiatry. 30(3): 1-20 
  • Botsford, S. Yang, S., George, T. (2020). Cannabis and cannabinoids in mood and anxiety disorders:  Impact on illness onset and course, and assessment of therapeutic potential. The American Journal on Addictions. 29(1): 9-26. 
  • Bresin, K., & Mekawi, Y. (2019). Do marijuana motives matter? Meta-analytic associations with marijuana use frequency and problems. Addictive Behaviors. 99. 
  • Osser, D. (2020).  Cannabis: Patients with bipolar should avoid use.  Psychiatric Times. (37)4: 25.  
  • Stea, J. Is Cannabis good or bad for mental health?  Scientific American, January 27, 2019 
  • Black, N. (2019); Borodovsky, J. & Budney, A. (2018); Botsford, S. Yang, S., George, T. (2020); Bresin, K., & Mekawi, Y. (2019); Osser, D. (2020; Stea, J) 

Delta-8 THC

  • Babalonis, S., Raup-Konsavage, W., Akpunonu, P., Balla, A., & Vrana, K. (2021). Delta-8 THC:  Legal status, widespread availability, and safety concerns. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. 6(5):362-365. 
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Increases in availability of cannabis products containing Delta-8 THC and reported cases of adverse events. September 14, 2021. 
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 5 things to know about Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol – Delta-8 THC. September 14, 2021. 
  • Washington Healthy Youth Coalition.  (May, 20121). Delta-8 and other THC isomers: An emerging safety concern. 
Explore in this Section
Substance Use Education & Information