Recreational drug use among Bowdoin students tends to increase as graduation approaches, with current juniors and seniors reporting significantly higher incidences of drug use than they did in the fall of 2010, according to Orient surveys from 2010 and 2013.
The survey results showed that the number of seniors who have smoked marijuana at least once at Bowdoin increased to 60 percent up from 46 percent during the fall semester of their sophomore year.
Seventy-three percent of respondents from the Class of 2014 have smoked marijuana at least once, a large increase from 32 percent in their first semester at the College in 2010.
The Orient distributed the most recent survey to all students via email on February 12. As of this morning, 544 students, about 30 percent of the student body, had responded. The results indicate prevalent marijuana use in an otherwise mild drug scene on campus.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents have smoked marijuana—the most commonly used drug according to the survey—at least “once to a few times” at Bowdoin, while 31 percent smoke “every month or two” or “weekly or more.” Alcohol was not included in the survey, but according to last spring’s NESCAC-wide alcohol survey, 42 percent of Bowdoin students drink occasionally, 41 percent drink often, and 17 percent reported not drinking at all.
Comparing these results to a similar survey conducted by the Orient in fall of 2010 shows that marijuana use on campus has increased slightly over the past five semesters. In the 2010 survey, based on 590 responses, 52 percent of respondents reported having smoked marijuana on campus.
“This isn’t surprising,” wrote Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster in an email to the Orient. “We know this from our own surveys. Pot use is on the rise in the general population and on college campuses across the country.”
Several students agreed to speak with the Orient about their experiences with drug use on campus on the condition of anonymity. The Orient agreed to this condition in order to include student voices in this report. Aliases were created for each student interviewed, and these pseudonyms are used throughout this article.
Eileen, a sophomore female who reported having ingested molly (the pure form of MDMA), eaten psychedelic mushrooms, used “study drugs” such as Adderall without a prescription, and who said she smokes marijuana four to five days a week, felt that marijuana use tends to increase within individual class years throughout the years at Bowdoin.
“I feel like there’s a group [of marijuana users] in each grade, and that group gets bigger and bigger after freshman year,” she said.
“As you get older it seems like less of a big deal and you’ve been exposed to it more times,” explained Brad, a senior male who reported having eaten mushrooms, taken LSD, and says he smokes regularly at Bowdoin. “In general you get more comfortable with anything the more times you’re exposed to it.”
“The trend concerns me because of the potential health consequences of habitual pot use on the developing brain and the correlation between heavy use and poor academic performance,” wrote Foster. He noted that staff from the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs will attend “Marijuana and College Students,” a professional development seminar, on April 24.
Gertrude, a junior female who reported having tripped on acid, eaten psychedelic mushrooms, used “study drugs,” and who smokes marijuana regularly at Bowdoin, commented on the positive social effects of smoking pot.
“If anything I think smoking has made my social life a lot more mellow. I definitely drink less and just am more of a homebody on nights where I smoke and drink wine rather than go out,” she said.
Gladys, a sophomore female who on campus has tripped on acid, eaten psychedelic mushrooms, ingested molly, and smokes marijuana multiple times a week, recommends that students smoke instead of drinking.
Of all drugs surveyed, only marijuana, tobacco and “study drugs,” such as Adderall and Ritalin, were found to have been used by more than 10 percent of respondents.
“You can pretty much always find [Adderall] on this campus if you want it,” said Eileen.
However, according to the students interviewed, other drugs are less accessible on campus. While marijuana is the most commonly used drug at Bowdoin, availability depends on knowing the right people.
“There’s a few kids on campus who deal weed, but no one’s really consistent. Someone will have a lot of weed and sell it, but there’s no ‘Biggie Smalls’ dealer,” said Eileen.
Norman, a sophomore male who said he ingested mushrooms at Ivies, and has also dropped acid, snorted Adderall recreationally, and recently quit smoking marijuana, noted factors such as high prices and low quality as well.
“There’s no trouble with access to anything at Bowdoin if you want it,” he said. “Although I will say it’s often more expensive, and you’re not going to get good [quality drugs] if you do buy it on campus.”
In the past couple of years, however, anonymous online sites such as “Silk Road” have launched and made illicit drugs widely accessible to students who choose not to buy on campus.
“These days there’s websites where you can order any drug you want, and they’ll ship it in ways so they know it won’t get caught,” explained Norman.
Beyond marijuana and “study drugs,” illicit drug use at Bowdoin is contained within small social groups.
“You know which circles do various things and which don’t,” explained Brad.
“I see a lot of shrooms, acid, morning glory seeds, but that’s the circles that I’m in,” explained Ruth, a sophomore female who said she smokes marijuana “a few times a week” and has taken shrooms three times at Bowdoin. “I remember being really surprised the first time I saw someone snorting lines off a table in a social house. I hadn’t been exposed to that.”
However, the survey shows students tend to overestimate the prevalence of drug use on campus, which may be a factor of the visibility of students under the influence of illicit drugs on campus.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents overestimated the number of students who smoke marijuana monthly or more. Sixty percent overestimated the number of students who use tobacco, and 42 percent overestimated the use of “study drugs.”
Foster worries these perceptions contribute to “social norming.”
“Social norming contends that people will actually adjust their behavior to what they believe the social norm to be. Therefore, it is important that you educate people about actual behavior versus perceived behavior so that people aren’t adjusting their behavior to conform with a perceived, inflated norm,” he wrote.
According to students interviewed, at Bowdoin there are also misconceptions regarding drugs and a general stigma against drug users.
“A lot of kids don’t smoke [marijuana], they’re morally opposed to it, and they judge the shit out of kids that do,” said Norman.
“Cigarettes have a huge stigma, way worse than alcohol or weed or anything else…Bowdoin is so big on never judging anybody for anything no matter what, unless it’s smoking a cigarette.” said Brad.
In actuality, the students interviewed claimed that the drug scene at Bowdoin is safer than one might think.
“The culture at Bowdoin does not tend towards blowing your brains out on the weekend,” said Gladys.
“Students here like to have a lot of control. That’s how they got here. They made a lot of deliberate decisions and worked really hard, and so they’ll say things like ‘I don’t smoke weed when I’m in season.’ It’s very controlled, and I don’t know how healthy that is, but it gets people to where they want to be,” added Ruth.
Since first coming to Bowdoin, 24 percent of respondents say their drug use has increased, while 54 percent—including those who have never used drugs—have not changed their habits.
The survey results provide a small window into Bowdoin’s drug scene--it is impossible to quantify precisely how many students have used drugs on campus, as this number is constantly changing.
As Chet, a senior male, put it, “If I had taken the survey 48 hours later, my answers would have been different.”