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Walla Walla, WA
Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Dr. Kilmer’s Talk on Drug Use

November 10, 2022
Nicholas Humphries

Recap of the Presentation on the Harm in Substance Abuse

By Nicholas Humphries

Dr. Jason Kilmer presented this past Tuesday at CommUnity via Zoom. According to his biography page, he is an “associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington and is an investigator on several studies evaluating prevention and intervention efforts for alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs with college students.” [1] During his talk, he covered the effects of alcohol and cannabis use, as well as their potential harm. On Tuesday night, Dr. Kilmer held a Q&A session for students, which also gave students CommUnity credit. 

Much of Dr. Kilmer’s talk focused on alcohol expectancy because many people think it makes them more sociable and better at dancing. He spoke of an experiment that he and his colleagues set up. They built a fake bar in a lab at University of Washington named BARLO, which stands for Behavioral Alcohol Research Laboratory. The bar was built with several hidden cameras and a two-way mirror to observe results. They then recruited students to go to the bar and order drinks. The bar had dimmed lights and played music, giving it an atmosphere expected from a regular bar. But after one hour, the experiment ended with the lights coming on and the music stopping. 

There were four groups of students chosen. The first group was given drinks with alcohol and the students were notified that the drinks, indeed, had alcohol. The second group was given tonic water and non-alcoholic beer and notified that their drinks were non-alcoholic. The third group was given a placebo—seemingly alcoholic beverages, which tasted and smelled like alcohol but were in fact non-alcoholic. The fourth group was given alcohol but told their drinks didn’t contain any alcohol. 

The first group acted as any other would at a party by acting rambunctious and flirty. The second group acted shy and awkward, and clearly weren’t enjoying themselves. But, surprisingly enough, the third group that was given non-alcoholic beverages but were told they were alcoholic acted the same as the first group: rambunctious and flirty. Equally astonishing was the fourth group, who acted like the second group, being awkward and shy, blaming their flushed cheeks, loss of coordination, and teetering mental state on the temperature of the room.  

With these results came the realization that being outgoing and social isn’t a byproduct of alcohol, only a figment of our imagination. According to Dr. Kilmer, our assumptions about alcohol “have more to do with the cup in our hand than what is in the cup.” [2] 

A similar experiment was done to see if anxiety was lowered with cannabis usage. A control group was given edibles containing CBD and the placebo group was simply given hemp pops. Both groups were asked to rate music, comedy clips, color design, and compute math problems. Astonishingly, the levels of anxiety were the same for both groups. 

Dr. Kilmer was also quick to point out that drug overdoses tend to happen in new environments. He used the story of a son who gave his father morphine injections four times a day in bed to keep his pain down. One day his father was watching TV in the living room and his son injected the morphine. Soon after, his father was dead in the chair. Students practicing safe drinking need to be aware that new environments can cause overdoses much easier than in familiar environments. 

According to Dr. Kilmer, if students want to do well in college, it is necessary to realize that the more students drink, the more they become tired and less engaged, which creates a lower GPA. [3] Additionally, more frequent cannabis use brings less attention, concentration, and memory in the hippocampus. After daily use, it takes 28 days for the impact on attention, concentration, and memory to be brought back to normal. Students believe that stress, anxiety, and sleep problems are the reasons they use cannabis. During the nights substances are used, there is REM sleep deprivation which increases anxiety, irritability, sleepiness, and jumpiness.  

Low-risk drinking is done when limits are set to how much is consumed. Eating prior to or while drinking is also helpful. Students also should keep track of how much they drink, space their drinks, and not outdrink others. However, unlike alcohol, there is no safe level of recreational cannabis use. Additionally, people who vape and smoke are seven times more likely to acquire COVID-19. 

On Tuesday evening, students were given the chance to ask Dr. Kilmer questions regarding substance usage. A student asked if THC was helpful for anxiety, to which Dr. Kilmer explained that THC worsens anxiety because any substance with above 10% THC is considered high-potency cannabis, which means the majority of Washington weed fits into this category. Because college students typically use cannabis to calm anxiety, he explained that the use of cannabis by 18 to 24-year-olds made them more likely to have an onset of anxiety disorders. [4] 

Additionally, Canada, who has allowed the use of medical and recreational marijuana, only recommends it to be used for neuropathic pain, palliative and end of life care, chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, but only if use of traditional therapies and treatments have been exhausted.  

Another student asked if there are any instances of safe substance use. Dr. Kilmer said that there is no safe instance for cannabis use. There is no safe use of alcohol, but he was quick to point out that low-risk drinking can be accomplished. He said to practice safe drinking, males should consume no more than 14 drinks a week and females shouldn’t consume more than seven during the same period. [5] 

His big takeaway was to know yourself best. When first attending college, all students have important goals. Be sure to identify the goals, how to get there, and what might get in the way. He also said that there is a lot of science and a lot of opinions, but when in doubt, speak to the health and wellness center to find answers to questions regarding substance use. 



  1. Jason Kilmer. (n.d.). CSHRB. 
  2. CommUnity with Jason Kilmer, 11/1/2022. 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Q+A with Jason Kilmer, 11/1/2022. 
  5. Ibid.
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