Cannabis companies are targeting teens on social media, study finds


A new study with a small sample found that cannabis retail companies are violating state restrictions on social media and targeting teens.

The study was published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Studies recently and online on January 19, and found that many recreational cannabis companies are marketing their products in ways that appeal to children and teens, “flouting state regulations.” A press release was issued the following day.

The study, “A Content Analysis of Cannabis Company Adherence to Marketing Requirements in Four States,” provided an analysis of cannabis company social media posts in a handful of legal states.

A team of researchers assessed a year of posts publicly posted on Facebook and Instagram by cannabis retail companies in four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – and assessed whether the companies were complying with social media restrictions .

The researchers looked for content that went against the restrictions, including brand promotions or discounts, overconsumption modeling, youth-oriented messages, and health benefits. They also looked at various state requirements.

They checked whether companies posted the required warnings, including stating that cannabis was restricted to those aged 21 and over, avoiding impaired driving and listing health risks.

But in the study, only 14 companies were assessed. The researchers assessed 2,660 publications from these 14 companies, to be exact.

“I expected cannabis companies to be unlikely to fully adhere to existing guidelines,” said lead author Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd., MPH, division chief of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Some cannabis companies generate dozens of social media posts a day, and there is currently no system in place to monitor or enforce these regulations. However, it was surprising how the presence of lines guidelines made a difference between states.

What the results show

Discounts or promotions were found in about 35% of the publications, the researchers said. “Overuse” was found in 12% of all posts. Content containing warnings, “despite being required”, the researchers said, was evident in less than half of all posts.

The researchers noted that the state of Washington, for example, prohibits the display of branded products, such as T-shirts with a company logo. But they found that about 1% of social media posts from cannabis companies in Washington state were unaware of this restriction.

The research team admitted that “in states without this regulation, these types of messages appeared between five and ten times more frequently. So while regulation doesn’t guarantee compliance, it does appear to have an impact on how often companies share content that may or may not be restricted.

“As a pediatrician, I know that marketing and advertisements have a strong influence on children and teens,” Moreno said. “Previous studies have shown how alcohol and tobacco company marketing is associated with youth use of these products.”

She continued, “Parents should talk with their children about how cannabis companies seek to influence them using youth-friendly approaches, such as the use of cartoon characters and memes.”

The study was picked up by FOX23 News and ABC10 in New York at the time of writing.

Both Facebook and Instagram fall under the Meta umbrella, and we can’t help but wonder if studies like this have any impact on Meta policy. “I don’t think the results of this study have any impact on Meta censoring cannabis brands, as they justify their actions by saying that cannabis is federally illegal in the United States and therefore prohibited anywhere in the world, even in the countries where it is federally legal, such as Canada,” said ADCANN CEO Cody Hicks Highlights. ADCANN provides cannabis marketing tools, such as restoring an Instagram account if it has been disabled due to cannabis.

We have questions

If legal cannabis companies are targeting teenagers, it doesn’t seem to be working. A large separate study published in the JAMA Pediatrics— using data from national and state surveys of youth risk behaviors from 1993 to 2017, researchers from Montana State University, the University of Oregon, the University of Colorado at Denver and San Diego State University — looked at states that had legalized medical and adult cannabis use and the likelihood of teen use (in the past 30 days).

The study analyzed data from 27 states and the District of Columbia, and seven states where adult cannabis use is legal, over a 25-year period. Adult cannabis use laws were associated with an 8% decline to diminish in the likelihood of teens trying cannabis, as well as 9% reduction in the odds of frequent cannabis use, according to the study. They found that medical cannabis laws had no significant effect on cannabis use among adolescents.

Usually, headlines about kids and cannabis tend to pop up around Halloween every year. Bias focusing on the harms (or benefits) of cannabis abounds in clinical and non-clinical cannabis research.

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