A new study found similarities between how 20th-century alcohol and tobacco brands previously advertised their products to young people and how cannabis companies today are promoting their products. The study identified several companies using social media and other youth-centered advertising strategies to market to young consumers. These findings suggest that not only are cannabis companies hoping to draw business from a younger consumer base, but they’re also spending millions of dollars in ads to ensure just that.
A recent study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs outlined how cannabis companies are not taking necessary precautions to ensure a young audience does not see their advertising.1 Further, the research indicated that the companies might be intentionally marketing their products to seem compelling or interesting to teenagers and young adults.
It has been known for some time that marketing messages can influence young people’s attitudes toward alcohol and tobacco. And while companies that make and sell alcohol and tobacco have been penalized in the past for advertising their products to adolescents, it would seem that cannabis manufacturers are now utilizing similar techniques.
The following are some basic data points from the study’s findings:
- The researchers analyzed one year of publicly which displayed social media posts by retail cannabis companies on Facebook and Instagram in states where recreational cannabis is legal.
- The researchers evaluated the social media posts across two key areas. First, the degree to which such companies promoted their products using youth-focused messages (displaying cartoon characters, showing young people in the ads, using bright colors, using youth-oriented peer pressure messaging, etc.). The other factor examined was whether or not the companies used safety precautions and warnings in their posts.
- A total of 2,660 posts from 14 cannabis businesses in four states were studied.
- The researchers found that cannabis companies promoted discounts and sales in approximately 35% of all posts, many of which were slanted towards young adult viewers. Researchers also found that the overconsumption of marijuana was either hinted at or encouraged in 12% of posts that likely would have been seen by a younger audience.
- Finally, the researchers found that legally required safety messaging and warnings were present in less than half of all advertisements examined. Quoting the research directly, “Despite state-based advertising restrictions, recreational cannabis business pages use messages with youth appeal. Required safety message adherence is not typical on social media business pages.”
“The one remaining Wild West of marketing is still social media, and one of the issues with social media is that these platforms are most highly frequented by youth.”
The research shows the importance of regulating how cannabis companies promote their products. Unfortunately, government regulation has been slow to catch up with advertising placed on social media, as the social media space is rapidly developing, often changing before regulatory laws can have an effect. Quoting lead study author Dr. Megan Moreno, division chief of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “The one remaining Wild West of marketing is still social media, and one of the issues with social media is that these platforms are most highly frequentedby youth.2 Essentially, we were wondering what’s happening in a lightly regulated environment that’s populated by youth, and how are cannabis companies leveraging that.” Dr. Moreno and her team need wonder no longer, as their findings show cannabis manufacturers are taking advantage of loose social media regulations to market their products to adolescents.
Cannabis Use Leads to Health Risks for Teens and Young Adults
There is already a fair amount of effort to better regulate cannabis companies. There are some good ideas about how to make social media a safer place for young people where they will not be exposed to advertisements about cannabis. Much of the commentary and idea-sharing on these subjects can be found in this article.
A step-up in regulation and public health efforts will help curb this problem. But parents and young people must understand why cannabis is particularly harmful. That way, individual families can do their part to ensure their sons and daughters and other young people in the community do not begin experimenting with marijuana.
There is no shortage of information on how marijuana experimentation harms young people. Quoting NIDA researchers, “Substantial evidence from animal research and a growing number of studies in humans indicate that marijuana exposure during development can cause long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain.” 3 Other research found that young people who use marijuana were associated with lower scores on verbal memory tests taken later in life.
Research has also suggested a connection between marijuana use in one’s adolescent years and declines in IQ. Studies that measured IQ found that young adults who lost IQ points but then stopped using cannabis did not experience a return in IQ to its levels before cannabis consumption.
Other studies have drawn a clear link between cannabis use in one’s youth and poor long-term memory later in life. Quoting Dr. Matthew Smith, assistant professor of behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine and a lead study author, “Both our recent studies link the chronic use of marijuana during adolescence to these differences in the shape of brain regions that are critical to memory, and that appear to last for at least a few years after people stop using it.” 4 Even if there is some indication that memory returns years after one stops using cannabis, there is no guarantee that such will occur.
The above has been just a brief glance at the troves of scholarly work on the physiological, psychological, and behavioral health problems caused by young people using marijuana. There is no question that such experimentation is harmful and should be prevented.
The Importance of Keeping Young People Safe from Cannabis
Young people should not use cannabis. But if they start using it, and if they cannot stop using it, there are resources for them and ways for them to seek help and get better. Drug treatment at a qualified rehab center is the answer if a young person falls prey to cannabis advertising and begins to experiment with cannabis as a result.
If you know someone using cannabis who cannot stop using it, please make sure they get help at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab center. Please don’t wait until their cannabis habit gets worse.
Rutgers Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, Megan A. Moreno , M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H.,a,* Marina Jenkins , B.A.,a Kole Binger , B.S.,a Lauren Kelly , M.S.W.,a Pamela J. Trangenstein , Ph.D.,b Jennifer M. Whitehill , Ph.D.,c & David H. Jernigan , M.A., Ph.D.d. “A Content Analysis of Cannabis Company Adherence to Marketing Requirements in Four States.” 2020, Journal Study ↩︎
Matthew J. Smith, Derin J. Cobia, James L. Reilly, Jodi M. Gilman, Andrea G. Roberts, Kathryn I. Alpert, Lei Wang, Hans C. Breiter, John G. Csernansky. “Cannabis-related episodic memory deficits and hippocampal morphological differences in healthy individuals and schizophrenia subjects.” 2015, Northwestern University Research Article ↩︎