A new study out in the journal “Drug and Alcohol Dependence” reveals some shocking data about social media’s influence on teen cannabis consumption. According to a survey conducted by researchers with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, one in three teens in states with recreational legalization engage with cannabis brands on social media. Furthermore, the study found that teens who engage with cannabis brands online were five times more likely to consume cannabis compared to those who did not. The study is the first in the United States to examine the influence of social media marijuana marketing on teen cannabis consumption. And the results are raising the alarm among pediatric healthcare professionals.
The Cannabis Advertising and Social Media (CASM) study is giving us our first glimpse at the relationship between online cannabis marketing and consumption habits among teens. The study is important, because it helps public health officials gauge the success of campaigns and other efforts prevent and reduce underage cannabis use.
Researchers conducted a survey of 482 young people between the ages of 15 to 19 in six states with legal recreational cannabis. As a baseline, about 33 percent of those surveyed reported using cannabis in the past year. Over a quarter of those surveyed reported consuming cannabis in the past 28 days.
Of teens who had consumed cannabis, the survey found that 22 percent had a favorite marijuana brand that they engaged with on social media. Teens with a preferred cannabis brand were eight times more likely to have consumed cannabis in the past month. Furthermore, 33 percent of teens surveyed said they would wear or own a branded cannabis product. Those teens were seven times more likely to have consumed cannabis in the last 28 days. In short, engagement with marketing or branding dramatically increased the likelihood of teens consuming cannabis.
Despite shadow bans on cannabis content by major social media platforms like Facebook, weed brands and popular accounts are all over platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. And for UW professor of pediatrics Megan Moreno, MD, MPH, who co-authored the CASM study, that’s exactly the problem.
“Kids who can’t buy or use non-medical marijuana shouldn’t have to see these promotions and they shouldn’t be able to interact with them,” said Moreno.
In fact, researchers say their results are completely in line with trends observable in other categories, like alcohol and tobacco. As with cannabis, the more a young person engages with alcohol or tobacco brands online, the more likely they are to consume that substance and to do so more heavily. The CASM study is the first to document this phenomenon with cannabis specifically.
And in light of the results, researchers say its clear that efforts to prevent and reduce teen cannabis consumption are failing. “It is clear that the current methods of protecting youth are not working,” said lead investigator Pamela Trangenstein. “When 45 percent of youth report being online almost constantly, exposure to marijuana marketing on social media may put their health and futures at risk.
Other recent studies have highlighted exactly how serious that risk is. Researchers have found that consuming marijuana during important periods of brain development, such as adolescence, harms memory and cognitive performance and can elevate mental health risks.