Katherine Xiu

Recent Yale research has shown that drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis may not be so dope for grades.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine and the Institute of Living in Hartford concluded that students who consumed a combination of alcohol and marijuana had significantly lower grades in their upcoming college semesters than those students who abstained or had very little of either substance. The study followed 1,100 college freshmen over a two-year period, tracking their GPAs and self-reported use of substances.

“Although independent effects of alcohol and marijuana have been previously validated, there is almost no literature on how combined use of alcohol and marijuana affects academic performance, especially in college in a longitudinal setting,” said Shashwath Meda, the first author of the study from the Institute of Living.

The group focused on college students — an age range where initiation of substance use is at its peak, according to Meda.

Though the study was able to track many students who drank only alcohol without consuming marijuana, drank alcohol and consumed marijuana, or consumed little or none of either, researchers did not find a significant number of students that consumed only cannabis and were unable to reach conclusions for that particular group.

The study showed that while students who drank heavily but consumed very little marijuana initially had lower grades than their counterparts, these heavy drinkers did not have a consistent decrease in GPA across the two-year time frame. The group’s follow-up analysis also suggested that those who moderated drug use over the course of the study were able to recover and perform better academically.

However, between 60 and 70 percent of the students who started in one specific category of drug consumption did not move into a different group over the course of the study. In other words, those who consumed neither alcohol nor marijuana were unlikely to begin use of either, while those who consumed only alcohol were unlikely to begin consuming marijuana.

The research showed that the lowest grades were earned by students who consumed both alcohol and marijuana, with an average GPA of 2.66. Students who drank only alcohol had an average GPA of 3.03 — just 0.07 points below students who barely smoke or drink, who had an average GPA of 3.10.

The report mentions that first-year students typically have exaggerated ideas about how much college students drink. Therefore, they may be susceptible to get involved in heavy drinking and drug use that can increase the risk of academic underperformance, among other effects.

Students interviewed said it made sense that first-year students may be affected more by alcohol and drug use than upperclassmen.

“I think for a lot of Yale students who are very high-achieving, [college] is the first time that they’re exposed to drugs and alcohol,” said Cindy Xue ’17, a freshman counselor in Jonathan Edwards College. However, she said that as first-year students spend more time at Yale, they adjust to the change. The number of alcohol-related transports to Yale Health and Yale New Haven Hospital decrease as the year goes on, according to Xue.

Other students, including Daniel Henick ’18, said they were curious about the effects of marijuana alone on grades, given that this was not reported by the study. Because a combination of alcohol and marijuana was more deleterious to grades than alcohol alone, Henick wondered if the effect on grades is caused by the drug, or if the type of person who chooses to both drink and smoke tends to have worse grades.

Meda said he hopes that the results found in the study help both college students and administrators confront the problems drug use can cause in early academic success.

“We feel that our study would promote awareness among college students and help them understand that moderate to heavy use of both drugs should not be taken lightly,” Meda said. “We feel that early provision of information, intervention and monitoring might be key — especially in the first semester.”