Amanda Neilson, harm reduction consultant at Algonquin, presented the Umbrella Project and other programs to help students with their drugs consumption.

We must face the facts: students are stressed. It is rather understandable since they have to juggle classes and homework, work and volunteering, not to mention the financial and housing responsibilities.Thus, students tend to resort to various substances to help relax after a long day.

“I work at the kitchen so its fast-paced, stressful hours you know, so when I come home I roll up some weed and watch my funny cartoon,” said Kevin Alexandre Icart, a first-year student in the introduction to music industry arts program. On school days, Icart disclosed drinking at the college’s bar and from time to time going to his friends’ house in between classes to take a bong hit just to calm nerves.

Icart is one of the 45 per cent of students who take drugs regularly, according to a random and non-representative survey of over 100 students conducted by the Algonquin Times. The survey found that 33 per cent of the respondents do it to help with stress, while 67 per cent do it for pleasure.

Amanda Neilson, the harm reduction consultant who runs the Umbrella Project at Algonquin, believes that most students will use substances for fun. However, when it stops being fun for whatever reason, they stop using, or they decrease their use or they eventually change their use.

“We want to encourage students to have lots of different ways to have fun because what happens is, if they’re using to be able to build connection, to de-stress, to manage anxiety or depression, what can happen is that can lead to having problems with it later on,” said Neilson.

The direct or indirect consequences of the substances on physical and mental health are things that students either don’t know about or if they are aware of it, prefer to ignore.

“If I can be pretty frank, no one cares that it can be doing harm to their livers or doing harm to their lungs because that is so far in the future, it’s really hard to see that as a real consequence. We find that what’s more important to students is that causing fights between them and their partners, it is interfering with their stay in residence, it’s them failing a course or two, or a semester, those tend to be more immediate,” said Neilson.

In Icart’s situation, drinking or smoking doesn’t have an impact on his productivity at school, however, he admitted starting to smoke a lot less recently because of the lazy aspect of weed. “Even if you try to be productive, that lazy side will overtake you and then you will just start to procrastinate and be forgetful,” he said.

On another hand, Icart finds that on top of not getting enough sleep, adding alcohol or marijuana makes him feel a little heavy in the morning.

According to Neilson, using marijuana before going to bed can have other consequences in the long term. “When a person is using marijuana to help with sleep, it can actually cause that problem later on, they will then have to use marijuana to sleep because with time it will create insomnia,” she said.

For Icart, who has been smoking weed for about six years and drinking for four years, it would be really hard to stop even if he knew his health would be impacted in the long run.

In order to help reduce the consumption of substances, Neilson suggests finding other ways that don’t revolve around substances to build up that comfort.

“Often, delaying the urge to use a substance to 15 minutes, to 30 minutes, giving full permission of drinking in half an hour if we still want to, that delay can be so helpful,” she said. “Distraction such as video games, social media , also helps with the delay.”