Marijuana use trajectories and academic outcomes among college students

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016 May 1:162:137-45. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.02.041. Epub 2016 Mar 19.


Background: Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug by college students. Prior studies have established an association between marijuana use and poor academic performance in college, but research on the frequency of marijuana use over the entire college career is limited. The study objective was to examine the association of marijuana use trajectories on academic outcomes, including senior year enrollment, plans to graduate on time, and GPA.

Methods: Data were collected from a cohort of 3146 students from 11 colleges in North Carolina and Virginia at six time points across the college career. Group-based trajectory models were used to characterize longitudinal marijuana use patterns during college. Associations between marijuana trajectory groups and academic outcomes were modeled using random-effects linear and logistic regressions.

Results: Five marijuana trajectory groups were identified: non-users (69.0%), infrequent users (16.6%), decreasing users (4.7%), increasing users (5.8%), and frequent users (3.9%). Decreasing users and frequent users were more likely to drop out of college and plan to delay graduation when compared to non-users. All marijuana user groups reported lower GPAs, on average, than non-users.

Conclusion: These results identify marijuana use patterns that put students at risk for poor academic performance in college. Students who use marijuana frequently at the beginning of the college career are especially at risk for lower academic achievement than non-users, suggesting that early intervention is critical.

Keywords: Academic performance; College students; Early intervention; Longitudinal study; Marijuana; Trajectory modeling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Smoking / psychology
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Students / psychology
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Universities*
  • Virginia / epidemiology