Marijuana billboards, storefront ads influence cannabis use in teens, study shows

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Teens who regularly encounter ads for marijuana on billboards or in storefronts are more prone to use the substance on a regular basis, according to a recent study. What’s more, scientists say the youngsters are more likely to develop signs of cannabis use disorder.,

Even though cannabis use is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 in states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, the study authors, led by Dr. Pamela J. Trangenstein, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, write that “legalization may alter the ways that youth use cannabis.”

Trangenstein and colleagues point out that a rising majority of states have already legalized or are contemplating the legalization of recreational marijuana. Additionally, public anxiety about the dangers of cannabis usage has decreased over the last few years. However, the evidence tends to link cannabis usage to harmful consequences. neuropsychiatric diseases, car accidents, and drug abuse problems are among them.

Moreover, cannabis consumption by teenagers may be more harmful than it is among adults. “As the 2019 Surgeon General’s Report warned, cannabinoid receptors are crucial for brain development, which is why cannabis use during adolescence carries special risk,” the scientists explains.

The team utilized advertising on social media platforms as well as apps to gather 172 teenagers for their study. The teens were aged 15 to 19 and resided in places where recreational cannabis was legal. Also, each participant had taken the substance at least once.

Participants were asked about their marijuana use as well as whether they had a favorite brand or type of marijuana including the type of rolling papers. They were also asked about their exposure to cannabis marketing, such as whether they had seen ad campaigns on banners and retail stores as well as Facebook and Instagram. Participants also answered whether they purchased or were inclined to buy cannabis-branded apparel (e.g., hats, sunglasses, or t-shirts with marijuana logos or symbols). 

Those who indicated they saw posters or shop advertising “most of the time” or “always” had seven times the probability of habitual cannabis usage ,and almost six times the probability of experiencing symptoms of cannabis use disorder relative to those who claimed they had never seen ads. When compared to individuals who did not have a favored brand, having a preferred brand was associated with three times the probability of recurrent use as well as characteristics of cannabis use disorder. Furthermore, individuals who possessed or were likely to purchase cannabis-branded products were 23 times more likely to use it regularly than others who neither owned nor intended to buy such paraphernalia.

Surprisingly, teenagers who saw cannabis advertising on Instagram only on occasion were 85% less likely to consume marijuana regularly than those who had not seen such ads. Those who viewed them on a regular basis were 93% less likely to utilize them on a regular basis. Researchers believe that teenagers might be seeing more consumer material on Instagram than on Facebook to explain these surprising results. Furthermore, Instagram’s image-heavy design may lack written explanations that adolescents require to comprehend new items.

The researchers point out that, while marijuana marketing research is still in its early stages, analyses on tobacco and alcohol marketing show that “associations between ads and use may not stop at experimentation—ad exposure may facilitate progression toward problematic use, and their association may even be causal.”

According to the experts, when states legalize recreational marijuana use for adults, the impact on kids should not be overlooked. “[S]tates and other localities with legalized cannabis should exercise special caution regarding forms of marketing that promote brand identification and engagement with youth,” concludes Trangenstein and colleagues.

This study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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