Opinion: Legalized marijuana presents challenges in higher education

As of this writing, 21 states have legalized marijuana, which presents many challenges for college and university administrators. Excessive marijuana smoking can lead to the same problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption, such as erratic driving, fighting, vandalizing, stealing and so forth. This is due to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of marijuana that causes impairment, meaning diminished judgment and motor functions.

Most alcohol-free campuses are or will most likely be marijuana free campuses, as well. The main problem for campus public health officials is enforcing rules related to marijuana impairment by smoking, vaping or eating marijuana in brownies and other foods. Public health officials investigating driving and other problems on campus confront a problem to determine impairment because urine and blood tests are not useful. Marijuana may be present in the individual’s system, but impairment is not confirmed at the time of the test, and marijuana can stay in the person’s system for up to 30 days.

Higher education administrators preparing intervention and prevention programs to address students abusing marijuana and other substances might consider using Dr. Michael Milburn’s Druid app, which accurately detects impairment from marijuana and other drugs. DRUID is an acronym for “DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs.” This app can be used with Android and iOS platforms and is available on Google Play or the App Store.

According to Milburn, “Consuming cannabis affects the body and mind in many different ways. Of particular concern is the functional impairment that can result, comprising slowed reaction time, reduced hand-eye coordination, poorer balance and difficulty performing divided attention tasks. Some people use cannabis to experience a ‘high’ and become too impaired to drive safely, while others consume cannabis for medical reasons and may want to avoid its impairing effects. Being able to reliably measure one’s own level of impairment has been impossible – until now.”

Researchers reported that DRUID was the most sensitive cognitive marijuana impairment test among 10 tests examined.

An explanation of how the app works is too lengthy for this column. The short version is individuals test their reaction time to various tasks such as balance, decision-making, hand eye coordination and time estimation. The app takes several minutes to apply. According to Milburn, “Hundreds of measurements are integrated statistically using a proprietary algorithm and then transformed to an overall impairment score that can range from 0 to 100. Most scores fall between 30 and 70. Absent any impairment, a typical baseline score for DRUID is generally in the range of 32 to 42. Scores above this range indicate different levels of impairment.

Campus public health officials can use this app to enforce rules. The app shows an individual’s highest level of impairment within 30 to 45 minutes of marijuana inhalation. This impairment decreases over a period of two to three hours. Also, students can use this app to determine their level of impairment related to marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs and other substances.

Most colleges and universities have substance abuse prevention programs. These programs educate students on the impact drugs can have on their bodies, judgment and behavior. This education includes the harmful effects and legal consequences of these mind-altering drugs. The emphasis has been on alcohol abuse. The challenge now is for schools to increase educational efforts related to marijuana abuse to the level of alcohol abuse. New approaches are needed to meet this challenge.

One new approach is for substance abuse prevention specialists to teach students how to use the DRUID app. Students who know their impairment score for marijuana, alcohol and other substances can make better decisions regarding driving and participating in other dangerous activities.


Kevin Synnott is a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration at Eastern Connecticut State University.


Kevin Synnott