With the exception of four states and the District of Columbia, where recreational marijuana usage is legal, party drugs are not legal under any circumstances. But in 2014, nearly 40% of college students admitted to using illegal drugs, and over 20% admitted to using illegal drugs aside from marijuana. Aside from the legal repercussions for possessing, distributing, or using illegal drugs, your school may also take action against you. At the least, it will confiscate any illicit materials that you have in your possession. Beyond that, drug policies vary by college. Make yourself familiar with the rules and regulations on your campus.

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Aside from alcohol, marijuana is the most heavily used illicit substance by college students. A survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that while 34.4% of college students admit to using marijuana at least once in the past year. The percentage of students who use marijuana daily is much smaller: 9% of college males and only about 4% of college females. Marijuana can be addictive, but it is not proven to be a gateway drug (one that leads to the usage of more hardcore drugs).

Marijuana comes from a plant, contains the compound THC that is responsible for a high (a feeling of bliss and relaxation), and can be inhaled or ingested. When you inhale marijuana, THC is absorbed by your body right away (it takes longer if you ingest it) and begins to affect your body. Marijuana increases your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, increases your appetite, and slows your reaction times. It also may cause bloodshot eyes, short-term memory loss, anxiety, depression, and paranoia. These negative side effects may be more likely if you use too much marijuana.

Recreational marijuana usage is legal for individuals over 21 years old in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Dispensaries in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington sell marijuana for recreational use in small quantities to of-age adults. In states where it is legal, adults can legally grow a limited number of their own plants. However, marijuana remains federally illegal. Transferring it across state lines and providing it to minors can result in harsh penalties.

Because most marijuana is unregulated, the amount of THC is not consistent, meaning that some marijuana may be more potent than the rest. The higher the amount of THC, the stronger the side effects of the drug and the higher the risk of experiencing negative side effects. There is also evidence that marijuana usage may exacerbate the symptoms of some mental health conditions. Using marijuana during teenage years can lead to a loss in memory and brain function since the brain is still developing at that age. Long-term users may also experience breathing problems, problems during pregnancy, hallucinations, paranoia, and addiction.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are any medications that have been prescribed to an individual to treat a condition. Your doctor decides the dosage, the active ingredients, and the number of pills that you will get, based on your medical history. When you give your prescription drugs to someone else or accept someone else’s prescription drugs, your medical history is not taken into account and you are taking your safety into your own hands. It is illegal to sell or distribute prescription medications without a license to write prescriptions. Prescription painkillers (oxycontin, Percocet, Demerol, and codeine) in particular are highly addictive.


According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey, 9.6% of college students have used Adderall, a stimulant prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (a disorder in which you fall asleep frequently throughout the day). Among the reasons why it helps individuals with ADHD is its ability to increase attention span, focus, and listening. Narcolepsy patients benefit from its stimulant properties, which stave off sleep. Many of the college students using Adderall do not have a diagnosis of ADHD or narcolepsy.

College students often use Adderall to increase their focus and get work done. However, students who use Adderall with relative frequency and without a prescription may feel it’s side effects: headaches, dry mouth, nausea, decreased appetite, anxiety, restlessness, trouble sleeping. Abuse of Adderall can lead to even more severe consequences, such as dizziness, chest pain, rash, increased aggression, paranoia, mania, and seizures.

That isn’t as bad as it can get, however. Individuals can become dependent on Adderall. This means that if they try to stop taking it, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. Likewise, they may build up a tolerance and increase their dosage over time. An Adderall overdose can lead to hallucinations, panic attacks, vertigo, loss of consciousness, and coma. In some cases, Adderall can increase the likelihood of stroke or cardiac arrest, which can cause death.


Vicodin is the most commonly used narcotic by college students, with 2.8% of students having used it since beginning college. Vicodin is a combination of acetaminophen (available over the counter as Tylenol) and hydrocodone (an opioid). The combination creates a potent pain reliever that requires a prescription to obtain and is highly addictive. Hydrocodone slows breathing and heart rate, and used in combination with other drugs or alcohol, may cause the heart to stop beating. A Vicodin overdose may also cause death, with the preceding symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, confusion, sleepiness, fainting, shallow breathing, slow heart rate, and coma.


Ritalin is also used to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and narcolepsy. Only 1.6% of college students have chosen to use Ritalin. Like Adderall, Ritalin is a stimulant that can increase attention span, focus, and listening, which makes it attractive to college students. Side effects include headache, nausea, decreased appetite, sleeplessness, anxiety, and elevated blood pressure. Symptoms of abuse or dependency include increased aggression, delirium, panic attacks, and hallucinations.

Individuals can become tolerant of their Ritalin dosage and may take larger amounts over time, increasing possibility of an overdose. Symptoms of an overdose include cramps, fever, confusion, hallucinations, irregular blood pressure, nausea, and coma. Particularly in combination with other drugs or alcohol, a Ritalin overdose can be life-threatening.


Ecstasy (also known as MDMA or Molly) is a hallucinogenic party drug used by 5% of college students. Once ingested or snorted, ecstasy increases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels in the brain. This results in a euphoric sensation, increased energy, and a possible increase in sexual arousal. Norepinephrine also increases heart rate and blood pressure. Unpleasant side effects may include nausea, cramping, teeth clenching, blurry vision, and sweating.

Though the high from ecstasy lasts between three and six hours, coming down from the effects may last up to a week. Individuals may experience increased aggression and irritability, depression, trouble sleeping, anxiety, a decrease in memory function and ability to pay attention, appetite suppression, and a decrease in levels of sexual arousal. When used with other drugs or alcohol, the negative side effects may be enhanced.

People under the influence of ecstasy may be more risk-taking and sexually aroused, so their risk of contracting STDs, HIV, and hepatitis is elevated. Though it is unknown whether ecstasy is addictive, misuse can lead to life-threatening side effects. When under the influence of ecstasy, an individual’s body temperature can rise to the point where internal organs may begin to fail. This can cause death.


Cocaine is a highly addictive, illegal drug that is derived from the coca plant native to South America. It may also be referred to as blow, coke, or crack. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that cocaine use by college students is on the rise: in 2013, 2.7% of college students reported using cocaine within the past year. In 2014, this percentage rose to 4.4%. Cocaine can be snorted, injected, or smoked. Its effects begin quickly and disappear soon after, leading users to desire another high. It influences the brain’s flow of dopamine, a chemical that controls pleasure, by causing it to build up and create a high.

The short-term effects of cocaine usage, which cause people to seek out cocaine in the first place, include elation and an increase in energy and level of alertness. In some cases, paranoia and sensitivity to light, sound, and touch can also occur. As a stimulant, cocaine can also cause increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, tremors, restlessness, elevated temperature, and dilated pupils.

In the long term, consequences depend on a user’s method of delivery. Those who snort cocaine may be at risk for nosebleeds, constant nasal drainage, and a loss of their sense of smell. Those who inject cocaine are at a higher risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C. All users may experience malnourishment and decreased appetite, paranoia, or auditory hallucinations.

People who use alcohol or other drugs in conjunction with cocaine are more likely to experience an unintentional overdose. A person experiencing an overdose may have a heart attack, seizures, a stroke, or become unconscious. This is severe, requires immediate medical attention, and can result in death.

Good Samaritan Laws

All too often, a group of friends goes out to a party, everyone gets drunk, and one of the friends gets alcohol poisoning. Out of fear of being arrested or cited for underage alcohol use or drug use, the other friends may not call 9-1-1 despite the fact that one of them needs urgent medical attention. Good Samaritan laws were written to encourage these individuals to call 9-1-1 in the case of a medical emergency, like a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning, without fear of arrest or prosecution.

These laws do not protect a person who has distributed or sold drugs or who has driven while under the influence, but they may protect underage individuals who are intoxicated and/or in possession of alcohol or drugs from arrest, charges, and/or prosecution. Eight states’ Good Samaritan laws take into account the fact that an individual placed a life-saving call during litigation and sentencing.

Only 15 states have not enacted some sort of Good Samaritan law (Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming). To learn more about the Good Samaritan laws in your state, consider exploring the Law Atlas. If you live in one of the states without a Good Samaritan law, you should still seek medical help if you suspect that someone is in trouble. Calling 9-1-1 could save your friend’s life.

Page last updated: 12/2016