A sophomore was transported from West Hall to MidCoast Hospital after allegedly consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms last Saturday, according to Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols. The student, who reportedly consumed the mushrooms with a friend visiting from out of state, was "not in serious condition" and returned to campus after spending "just a couple of hours" at the hospital, said Nichols.
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster acknowledged that the Office of Student Affairs was reviewing the incident report in the same manner they review all reports from Security, noting that the student remains enrolled at the College.
The transfer is the second chiefly drug-related hospital transfer Nichols has been aware of in his five years at Bowdoin. Last year, according to Nichols, a student was transported to MidCoast after allegedly smoking marijuana and becoming ill.
With no knowledge of the mushroom related transfer, the Orient distributed a survey regarding drug use to the student body on Tuesday morning. Prompted by Security's October 1 release of the 2010 annual crime report, the survey queried students about personal and witnessed use of drugs on campus and about their perceptions of the drug culture at Bowdoin. Specifically, the survey asked about marijuana, cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines, heroin, hallucinogenic mushrooms, crack cocaine and prescription drugs.
As of Thursday evening, 590 students—approximately 34 percent of the student body—responded to the survey. In addition to e-mail, the survey was linked to in the Student Digest. Among respondents, there was a nearly even split between gender and an almost exactly even distribution across class years.
The majority of respondents, 51 percent, felt that illicit drugs are "not very prevalent" on campus. Thirty-five percent qualified the presence of drugs on campus as "somewhat prevalent," 7 percent as "nearly absent" and 4 percent as "very prevalent."
By a large margin, marijuana was the drug to which students reported having the most exposure, both through personal use and the observation of other students' use. Thirteen percent of respondents said that they use marijuana on campus or in the Brunswick area "weekly or more," 16 percent "every month or two," 23 percent "once to a few times," and 49 percent "never." In response to a question of how often they see another student smoking or under the influence of marijuana, 55 percent of respondents indicated "weekly or more." Twenty percent reported "every month or two," 17 percent "once to a few times" and 8 percent "never."
Responses to questions regarding other drugs suggested that, aside from marijuana, the use of illicit drugs by students at the College is very minimal.
In response to a question regarding the recreational use of prescription drugs, 2 percent of respondents reported using "weekly or more," 3 percent "every month or two," 7 percent "once to a few times" and 89 percent "never." Four percent of respondents said they see another student taking or under the influence of prescription drugs "weekly or more," 15 percent "every month or two," 21 percent "once to a few times," and 60 percent "never."
For LSD, zero percent of respondents reported using the drug "weekly or more," 1 percent "every month or two," 10 percent "once to a few times" and 89 percent "never." As for observing other students taking or under the influence of LSD, zero percent of respondents reported the incidence as "weekly or more," 1 percent "every month or two," 14 percent "once to a few times" and 85 percent "never."
Regarding hallucinogenic mushrooms, zero percent of respondents reported taking the substance "weekly or more" or "every moth or two," and 95 percent said they'd "never" taken them, and 5 percent indicated that they have consumed them "once to a few times." In terms of witnessing other students consuming or under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms, zero percent reported witnessing the drug being used "weekly or more," 3 percent "every month or two," 24 percent "once to a few times" and 74 percent "never."
The reports of consumption and observation of consumption of cocaine were similarly minimal. Zero percent of respondents reported using cocaine "weekly or more," 1 percent "every month or two," 4 percent "once to a few times," and 95 percent "never." One percent observed other students using or under the influence of cocaine "weekly or more," 6 percent "every month or two," 20 percent "once to a few times" and 74 percent "never."
One hundred percent of respondents reported "never" having used methamphetamines, heroin, or crack cocaine. Ninety-nine percent of respondents reported "never" having seen any fellow Bowdoin students use or be under the influence of methamphetamines, heroin, or crack cocaine; though 1 percent said they had seen students under the influence of each of those drugs "once to a few times."
Of the 590 respondents, 227 reported using drugs in a College dorm or apartment, 171 used drugs outside, 129 in a College house, 114 in an off-campus residence and 10 indicated an "other" location.
Security's 2010 annual report indicated that there were 23 drug violations referred to and reported by Security in 2009, in comparison to eight in 2008 and nine in 2007. Nichols stressed his belief that the apparent disparity reflected in these figures does not necessarily reflect an overall increase in drug use on campus. He pointed out that the figures reflect the number of reported incidents.
Foster said that "certainly nationally...it's known that marijuana use is on the increase...on college campuses."
The figures reflect, "the number of students disciplined...not the number of incidents," said Nichols. According to him, in 2009, Security dealt with 11 incidents, involving a total of 23 students. Eleven of the total 23 students were involved in three of those 12 incidents. All of these incidents involved marijuana.
In 2010 so far, Security has dealt with 11 drug incidents involving a total of 17 students. According to Nichols, all of these incidents were related to marijuana.
The compilation and availability of the report is required under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1998, which mandates the reports be issued annually in accordance with the calendar year, not the academic year.
"We are very close to the pace of last year," said Nichols.
Security is "not approaching the enforcement any differently than we have in any year," he said. "We have no special initiative and no increased enforcement."
Foster indicated that the actions the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs takes in response to the referrals it receives from Security vary in conjunction with the nature of the offense. According to the Student Handbook, "students whose illegal drug use comes to the attention of the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs will generally be referred to the Counseling Service or another drug treatment program. Depending on the circumstances, the student may also be subject to disciplinary action. Students who sell illegal drugs will be subjected to disciplinary action by the College."
The Orient spoke with a range of students who indicated on their survey form that they would speak on the record anonymously about their perception of and involvement in the drug scene at Bowdoin.
"I think in general it's pretty minimal compared to a lot of other college campuses and for the majority of the student body it's almost negligible. But there's a scene. If you want to find drugs you can," said a senior who identified themselves as a regular marijuana user who has also used cocaine on occasion.
"It's a lot more low-key than at my high school," said a first year male of the drug scene at Bowdoin. The student, who said he stopped smoking marijuana two years ago after a "bad experience," characterized the Bowdoin scene as "relaxed" and "responsible."
Another male first year, who said that he smokes marijuana four times a week with his roommates, said, "I think it's not a very strong community at all."
"We've had a lot more negative responses than positive responses," he said in regard to his peers' reactions to his and his roommates' use of marijuana.
A sophomore who smokes marijuana "at least weekly," said that the drug scene on campus is "pretty minimal [and] pretty intensely judged. Students don't have the time to indulge."
"I don't think [students are] judged very harshly when it comes to marijuana," countered a sophomore who smokes "occasionally." "Other drugs are taken a lot more seriously."
Students interviewed indicated fairly similar reasons for doing drugs.
One sophomore said that smoking marijuana is their "version of a release," and specified that they had "never seen why it could be illegal."
Another sophomore, when asked why he smokes marijuana, answered simply, "for fun."
A third sophomore said that he smokes marijuana because of "the social aspect. I bond a lot more closely with people I've smoked with."
"I guess it's one of those things like, I feel comfortable using [drugs] because I've used them before," said a junior who uses marijuana once or twice a week and cocaine once or twice a month. "I don't want to say peer pressure, but my friends do it, so I do it."
"They're a good time," the senior who smokes marijuana regularly and has done cocaine on occasion said of drugs. "But at the same time I understand that they're not necessarily good for you. Pot helps you relax. Bowdoin can be a stressful environment."
Among the students the Orient spoke to individually, most expressed minimal concern of being caught using marijuana and greater concern for being caught with harder drugs.
"If [security catches] you with marijuana, they take it away and you have a dean's meeting where they slap you on the wrist, from what I've heard," said the junior who smokes marijuana weekly and uses cocaine monthly.
"I'm more afraid of getting [caught with] the harder stuff, but I use it less frequently and so as long as it's gone after the night, it's fine," the student said.
"[I was afraid of getting caught] when I was a freshman and sophomore," said the senior who regularly smokes marijuana and occasionally does cocaine. "Now when I'm smoking pot I don't even feel like I'm doing anything wrong. Cocaine—yes, [I get nervous]. You get in a lot more trouble...Regardless, you're probably leaving school."
Of the students interviewed for this article, only two indicated ever having sold drugs themselves. One student sold marijuana to a friend once, and another student has sold marijuana to friends he "trusts" on an irregular basis.
Students indicated that, for the most part, they got their drugs from other students on campus or from sources at home. One student indicated traveling to Lewiston and Boston to obtain drugs other than marijuana.
Said a senior, "Pot was hard to find at first because a few years ago there was a big bust for one of the dealers. Knowing which of your friends has some," is a way to get marijuana. His sense was that occasionally students buy marijuana from Brunswick residents, but that method of obtaining marijuana is "less frequent than buying from kids on campus."
Among the students interviewed individually, many expressed their feelings that using drugs—marijuana in particular—was generally safer than drinking alcohol.
"I think weed is a lot safer than alcohol," said a first year male who does not smoke marijuana but does drink alcohol.
"I honestly find the use of alcohol much scarier than the use of drugs [at Bowdoin]," said a sophomore who smokes weekly.
"Alcohol abuse compared to drug use is much more serious," at Bowdoin, said a senior. "Alcohol [has] not [been] seen as a drug in the past, but with transports and discussions people are starting to see it that way."
"As far as the argument of which [marijuana or alcohol] is more dangerous...that to me is a bit of a side issue," said Nichols. "But there's no question that statistically [alcohol] puts people in the hospital...But I think that's a separate issue."
Of their take on the general drug use at Bowdoin, one senior said, "I don't think you can say there should or shouldn't be more. I think kids can get away with it if they're smart about it. I think it's fair to have your own opinion...It is a personal choice but it is illegal, too."
Editors note: The survey listed questions regarding both the use of "LSD" and "acid." Because "acid" is a common street name for LSD, we have adjusted the results to reflect the overlap. Multiple respondents wrote in wishing that we had investigated ecstasy use in the survey. Additionally, two sets of responses that were identified as unrealistically extreme outliers were eliminated from our data set.
-Claire Collery and Seth Walder contributed to this report.