Adolescents Who View More Medical Cannabis Advertising Are More Likely to Use Cannabis, Have Positive Views About the Drug
Warren Robak/RAND Corporation
Adolescents who view more advertising for medical cannabis are more likely to use cannabis, express intentions to use the drug and have more-positive expectations about the substance, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
The findings—from a study that tracked adolescents' viewing of medical cannabis ads over seven years—provides the best evidence to date that an increasing amount of advertising about cannabis may prompt young people to increase their use of the drug. The study was published by the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
“This work highlights the importance of considering regulations for cannabis advertising that would be similar to rules already in place to curb the promotion of tobacco and alcohol across the United States,” said Elizabeth D'Amico, the study's lead author and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
Researchers say the issue is of increasing importance because 29 states and Washington D.C. have approved sales of medical cannabis, and nine states and Washington D.C. also have approved recreational sales of the drug. Both actions are likely to lead to more cannabis advertising that will be visible to adolescents, even if they are not the target of the ads.
The RAND study followed 6,509 adolescents from 2010 until 2017 who were originally recruited from 16 middle schools in three school districts in Southern California, and went on to more than 200 high schools in the region. Participants were periodically surveyed to assess their exposure to medical cannabis advertising, and asked about cannabis use and related topics.
The participants were ethnically diverse. and rates of cannabis use at the outset of the study were similar to national samples of adolescents.
The proportion of adolescents who reported viewing medical cannabis advertising increased sharply over the course of the study. In 2010, 25 percent of the participants reported seeing at least one medical cannabis advertisement during the previous three months—the exposure rate grew to 70 percent by 2017.
Adolescents who reported greater exposure to medical cannabis advertising were more likely to report having used marijuana over the previous 30 days, and were more likely to report that they expected to use cannabis during the next six months. Viewing more medical cannabis advertising also was associated with having more-positive views about the drug, such as agreeing that cannabis relaxes a person and helps a person get away from their problems.
Youth who were exposed to more medical cannabis advertising also were more likely to report negative consequences because of cannabis. This included missing school, having trouble concentrating on tasks, doing something they felt sorry for later or having gotten into trouble at school or home.
“Our findings suggest that increased exposure to medical cannabis advertising is associated with increased cannabis use and related negative consequences throughout adolescence,” D'Amico said. “Thus, it is possible that teens who were exposed to the most medical marijuana advertising were more likely to use cannabis heavily and therefore experience more negative consequences.”
Researchers say that future research should look more closely at the impact of different sources of cannabis advertising, such as billboards, magazine ads or signage at retail outlets.
“As more states legalize cannabis for medical or recreational uses, we must think carefully about the best ways to regulate marijuana advertising so that we can decrease the chances of harm occurring, particularly for adolescents,” D'Amico said. “We must also continue to address beliefs about the effects of cannabis as part of our prevention and intervention efforts with this age group.”
The medical cannabis advertising study is part of ongoing prevention and intervention efforts conducted by RAND researchers, who have developed several group-based motivational interviewing interventions for adolescents. Information about the programs is available at www.groupmiforteens.org.
RAND Health is the nation's largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on health care costs, quality and public health preparedness, among other topics.
Thursday | May 17, 2018
About the RAND Corporation
The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.