Dutch weed on display at weed bar Metamorphose Photo by Reyer Boxem

Internationals bowled over by Dutch weed

A joint every hour

Dutch weed on display at weed bar Metamorphose Photo by Reyer Boxem
In the weed paradise that is the Netherlands, international students all too easily light up a joint – or two, or three. But the weed here is a lot stronger than what they’re used to. ‘I couldn’t focus, all I could watch was YouTube and Netflix.’
By Isabella Geoffroy and Ana Tudose
9 January om 16:19 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 January 2023
om 16:58 uur.
January 9 at 16:19 PM.
Last modified on January 9, 2023
at 16:58 PM.

Emanuele still remembers how he would wake up in the morning and instantly reach out for the baggie of green stuff that was still lying on the table from the night before. He’d roll a joint and light up again. Just like he had done the day before, and the day before that.

He’d smoke three to four grams a day. Pure joints, no tobacco added. His eyes were always red and he was lethargic, barely able to function. He’d smoke into the dead of night and keep the curtains closed during the day. It wasn’t exactly how the marketing management student had envisioned his life when he left Italy to study in Groningen three years ago. 

Emanuele had never smoked weed before he came to the Netherlands. ‘My friend from Lithuania offered me a puff of a joint’, he recalls. ‘I tried it. Didn’t feel anything.’ That didn’t stop him from trying it again, though. ‘I wanted to fit in. You need to make that really good impression in order to make friends here.’ 

He started smoking ‘weekly, then daily, then hourly’, he says. ‘Having to stay at home the whole time because of Covid-19 didn’t help. The combination of the pandemic and smoking weed was a killer.’


International students do love their weed, they’ve noticed at weed bar Metamorphose in the Oude Boteringestraat. ‘We get a lot of students and I would say that 60 percent of them are international’, an employee says. 

The combination of the pandemic and smoking weed was a killer

Studies from 2015 and 2016 by Hanze University of Applied Sciences lecturer Arne van den Bos support that conclusion. While 29 percent of Dutch students in Groningen said they had smoked weed in the past month, that number was twice as high among students from other European countries. 

Van den Bos’ studies also point out a reason so many internationals blithely toke up: they overestimate the level of acceptance in Dutch society of soft-drug usage. ‘Accessibility says something about our norms in society’, explains Arie Dijkstra, professor of behavioural psychology at the UG. And since it’s legal to buy weed here and you can get it in specialised stores and coffee shops, it must be normal, right? ‘If it wasn’t accepted, they figure, the government wouldn’t allow it.’


Add to that the fact that most internationals are used to marijuana being illegal, and it’s no surprise that they happily start puffing away. ‘On Cyprus, I would smoke around two times a month, but that became two to three times a week in Groningen’, says psychology student Lisa. ‘Mostly because it’s very easy to come by and cheaper as well.’ 

To arts student Lullina from Spain, the accessibility of weed in the Netherlands makes lighting up a joint feel safer. ‘Weed is more regulated here’, explains her fellow student Adele from France. They both have an international friend group and smoking weed with them is their preferred pastime.    

But internationals who are used to the weed in their own country could be in for a nasty surprise. Dutch-grown weed, so called ‘nederwiet’, contains a lot more THC, the substance in marijuana that is responsible for the high. The Trimbos Institute, the national research centre for mental health and drug use, measured a THC level of 17 percent in Dutch weed last year, whereas imported weed contained just 2.4 percent. The same went for ‘nederhash’, which contained 36 percent THC, as opposed to 26 percent in imported hash. Too much THC can cause psychotic symptoms, paranoia, and anxiety, especially when you smoke regularly. 

Off the rails

Studies from the Trimbos Institute show that students who consume cannabis experience negative effects on their studies. For one, they have difficulty maintaining focus.

I didn’t care whether it was good, I just wanted to smoke as much as possible

Emanuele had no idea of the possible side effects when he started smoking, but his life quickly went off the rails. ‘I used to get weed from dealers, through friends, because it’s cheaper’, he says. ‘I didn’t care whether it was bad or good, I just wanted to smoke as much as possible.’ Because the body builds up a tolerance against marijuana when you smoke regularly, he needed more and more of it. 

Following lectures became impossible. The weed made him lazy and apathetic. ‘I couldn’t focus. I was drowsy. All I watched was YouTube and Netflix.’ Then, he failed his second year.  

He blames his strict upbringing for his overindulgence. ‘Most of the students who get addicted are like me in that respect, or they come from a country where drugs are illegal’, he believes. 

Peer pressure

Wanting to fit in fuelled Emanuele’s addiction, but peer pressure can also help prevent it, Dijkstra points out. Social norms can have a huge impact, he says. ‘So it is important to be honest to others about what you use, because then you will know what is socially accepted.’ 

Lisa smokes ‘mostly for fun’, she says, ‘but I have also been smoking weed when I’m stressed or in a bad mental state.’ She tries not to let the marijuana affect her lifestyle. ‘I know for sure that it could affect my studies if I overdo it, so I’m consciously trying to smoke less.’ During the last exam week, she even stopped smoking completely, ‘so I could make sure I was fully focused’.

I know for sure that it could affect my studies if I overdo it

Emanuele, too, got his weed addiction under control in the end. After smoking regularly for two years straight, he quit last August. ‘I was at my parents’ house and I kept sneaking out to smoke weed at night’, he says. ‘When I went back to my room, I suddenly realised that I really needed to get my shit together.’

He didn’t experience any side effects from stopping, he says, and felt no urge to start smoking again. ‘I’m not the same person I was last year. Boredom does tricky things to your mind. I am much more responsible now. I’m in control.’

Nevertheless, he has noticed something within his friend group. ‘Now that I don’t smoke anymore, I do feel left out.’