Teens’ Marijuana Twitter Chatter Alarms Researchers

New findings from a group of American researchers indicate that exposure to pro-marijuana tweets may influence teenagers’ chances of using marijuana, a practice that’s especially harmful at an early age.

Large numbers of teenagers across the U.S. use Twitter, a social media application that allows anyone to broadcast short messages (i.e., tweets) to other smartphone and computer users across the country and the world. In a study published in February 2015 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine calculated the number of pro-marijuana tweets sent or received in the U.S. These researchers also looked at the ages of the Twitter users most likely to send or receive a pro-marijuana tweet.

Teens and Twitter

Figures gathered by the Pew Research Center indicate that Twitter use is an increasing phenomenon among America’s teenagers. In 2011, just 11 percent of teens accessed this social media app. By early 2013, the number of teen Twitter users had more than doubled to 24 percent. Additional findings from another statistical research organization point toward an adolescent Twitter use rate of 27 percent in 2014. In terms of popularity among teenagers, Twitter ranks below both Facebook and Instagram.

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of all teenage Twitter users knowingly keep their accounts open to the public, although the app allows users to restrict access to outgoing messages. An additional 12 percent of teen users don’t know if their tweets are visible to the general public. Roughly equal numbers of boys and girls maintain publicly accessible Twitter accounts. Interestingly, adolescents of African American racial/ethnic descent have a substantially higher chance of using Twitter than their age contemporaries with a Caucasian racial/ethnic background. The rate of Twitter use among African American teens stood at roughly 39 percent in 2013.

Teenagers and Marijuana

Figures gathered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse for the year 2014 indicate that about 21 percent of all U.S. 12th graders are monthly marijuana consumers. This rate of use far outstrips the 7.5 percent rate found in the total population of all preteens, teens and adults. Among 10th graders, the monthly rate of marijuana use stands at 16.6 percent, while the monthly rate for eighth graders stands at 6.5 percent. Marijuana intake actually decreased slightly in all three of these grades between 2013 and 2014; however, the level of reduction was not statistically meaningful.

Any teenager who consumes marijuana has a roughly 17 percent chance of developing a cannabis addiction and meeting the terms used to define a mental health condition called cannabis use disorder. This is almost double the rate of addiction for marijuana consumers as a whole. Among teens or adults who qualify as habitual consumers of the drug, the addiction rate rises even higher to a bare minimum of 25 percent.

Teenagers and Pro-Marijuana Twitter Chatter

In the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the Washington University researchers used a large-scale review of Internet search terms to help determine how often pro-marijuana tweets are sent and received in the U.S. by teenagers and people in other age groups. The researchers conducted this review over the course of a single month in 2014, and through advanced statistical means identified essentially all tweets that referenced marijuana/cannabis in any meaningful way during that time. They paid special attention to the Twitter handles of people or organizations known to send out large volumes of marijuana-related tweets.

The researchers found that in the month under consideration, 7.6 million marijuana-related tweets were sent throughout the U.S. They concluded that more than three-quarters of these tweets (77 percent) contained messages or statements that supported or promoted some aspect of marijuana/cannabis use. In addition, the researchers concluded that most of the remaining tweets (18 percent of the total) contained messages that did not clearly favor or disfavor marijuana use. They also concluded that just 5 percent of the 7-plus million tweets contained anti-marijuana messages.

The majority of the marijuana-related Twitter messages were sent or received by young people age 24 or younger. In turn, teenagers made up a substantial portion of these young senders and receivers. The researchers did not determine the precise impact that widespread exposure to pro-marijuana tweets has on teenagers’ subsequent drug-using behavior. However, they note teens’ known susceptibility to advertising and urge public health officials to consider the influence of pro-marijuana tweets among adolescents, who are already known to share disproportionate risks for the onset of cannabis addiction.

Posted on June 4th, 2015
Posted in Marijuana

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