The use of illicit drugs appears to have become "normal" on some college campuses and there does not seem to be any difference in achievement levels between users and nonusers, accoridng to a group of Harvard Medical School researchers. Studies of seniors at a New England college from 1969 through 1978 revealed a striking increase in regular marijuana use and an "astonishing" increase in the use of cocaine, says Dr. Harrison G. Pope, the phychiatrist who headed the project. Surprisingly, however, by 1978, differences betwen users and nonusers were indistinguishable on grades, athletics, career plans and their feelings of alienation from society, he reports in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. "It appears that drug use has merged even further with 'normal' college life in the last 10 years," he said. "On most indices of college life . . . even the heaviest drug users were essentially indistinguishable from the nonusers," he said. The study compared drug abuse among 517 seniors in 1969 and 540 seniors in 1978, the longest research at the same institution. In 1969, the use of cocaine was so rare that it wasn't listed as a separate drug. But by 1978, 30 percent of the students said they had tried cocaine at least once and 1.6 percent of the students reported using cocaine weekly. "It is remarkable to lfind that nearly a third of the students claim to have tried cocaine, and that indeed it now ranks second only to marijuana of all illicit drugs used by this population," Pope said. The reasons for the great rise in cocaine use are not known and more studies are needed to find the answer, he said. The popular use of marijuana increased from 16 to 26 percent and the regular use of slcohol increased from 33 to 44 percent, he said. In 1969, nonusers were more involved in political organizations, career planning and had less anti-social behavior than users. But by 1978, this difference had disappeared, Pope said. The only differences between users and nonusers in 1978 were that users were more sexually active and had more visits to psychiatrists, but these differences may not be related to drug use, he said.