January 26, 2015
3 min read

Most pro-marijuana tweets involved those aged younger than 25 years

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Study findings published in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicate the majority of tweets about marijuana were sent and received by Twitter users aged younger than 25 years.

“Many people believe marijuana use is harmless, and social media conversations almost certainly drive some of those opinions, making the drug appear socially acceptable,” study researcher Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD, of Washington University’s Institute for Public Health, said in a press release.

Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD

Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg

Cavazos-Rehg and colleagues conducted a computer search using terms associated with marijuana consumption such as “joint,” “blunt,” and “stoner,” which identified 7.6 million tweets related to marijuana sent during a 1-month period in 2014. Researchers narrowed their search to marijuana-associated tweets sent or received by Twitter accounts with more than 775 followers and Klout scores of at least 44. The final sample had nearly 7,000 tweets.

Seventy-seven percent of tweets were pro-marijuana, 5% were anti-marijuana and 18% were neutral, according to researchers.

Accounts tweeting pro-marijuana tweets had more than 50 million Twitter followers combined, nearly 12-fold the followers who tweeted anti-marijuana messages. The majority of pro-marijuana tweets discussed alleged benefits of marijuana and encouraged its use and legalization.

Most Twitter users sending and receiving marijuana-associated tweets were aged younger than 25 years, and many were teenagers, according to the release.

“Although we cannot yet link pro-pot tweets to actual drug use, we should be worried because many people receiving these messages are at an age when they are most likely to experiment with drugs and develop problems with substance use,” Cavazos-Rehg said in the release.

The AAP recently updated its policy statement on the legalization of marijuana, stating that it opposes marijuana use among individuals aged 0 through 21 years.

Since the first AAP policy statement on the legalization of marijuana was published in 2004, limited research has demonstrated potential therapeutic effects of marijuana for adults, but there are no published studies on the use of medicinal marijuana or pharmaceutical cannabinoids in pediatric populations, according to the AAP.

Published research has indicated potential negative consequences of short- and long-term recreational marijuana use among adolescents, including impaired short-term memory and decreased concentration, attention span and problem solving.

Negative effects on lung function associated with smoking marijuana and higher rates of psychosis among patients predisposed to schizophrenia have been indicated by study findings.

“New research has also demonstrated that the adolescent brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex areas controlling judgment and decision-making, is not fully developed until the mid-20s, raising questions about how any substance use may affect the developing brain,” the AAP’s committees on substance abuse and adolescence wrote.

However, the impact that decriminalization of marijuana may have on adolescents should be considered alongside the behavioral and health risks.

The AAP released its latest stance on pediatric marijuana use:

  • The AAP is opposed to marijuana use among children and adolescents aged 0 to 21 years;
  • The AAP opposes medical marijuana outside the regulatory process of the FDA, though the academy does recognize marijuana may be an option for cannabinoid administration among children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions;
  • The AAP opposes marijuana legalization due to potential harms for children and adolescents;
  • In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the AAP recommends strict enforcement of rules and regulations that limit access, marketing and advertising to youth;
  • The AAP strongly supports research and development of pharmaceutical cannabinoids and supports a review of policies promoting research on their medical use. Further, the academy recommends changing marijuana from a Drug Enforcement Administration schedule I to a schedule I drug to facilitate research;
  • The AAP strongly supports the decriminalization of marijuana use and encourages pediatricians to advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana.

“Ultimately, the behavioral and health risk associated with marijuana use by youth should be the most salient criteria in determining whether policies that are enacted are effective in minimizing harm,” the AAP concluded.

For more information:

Ammerman SD. Pediatrics. 2015;doi:10.1542/peds.2014-4147.

Cavazos-Rehg PA. J Adolesc Health. 2015;56:139-145.

Disclosure: The study by Cavazos-Rehg and colleagues was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the NIH. The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.