A new study with a modest sampling pool found that cannabis retail companies are not adhering to state restrictions on social media, and are targeting teens.
The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs recently and online on January 19, and found that many recreational cannabis companies market their products in a way that appeals to children and teens, “flouting state regulations.” A press release was released the following day.
The study, “A Content Analysis of Cannabis Company Adherence to Marketing Requirements in Four States,” provided an analysis of social media posts from cannabis companies in a handful of legal states.
A team of researchers evaluated one year of publicly displayed posts on Facebook and Instagram by retail cannabis companies in four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington—and evaluated if companies adhered to restrictions on social media.
Researchers looked for content that goes against restrictions, including branded promotions or discounts, modeling overconsumption, youth-focused messaging and health benefits. They also took a look at various state requirements.
They checked to see if companies displayed required warnings, including stating that cannabis is limited to people ages 21 and older, avoiding impaired driving and listing health risks.
But in the study, only 14 businesses were evaluated. Researchers evaluated 2,660 posts from those 14 businesses, to be exact.
“I had expected that cannabis companies were unlikely to fully adhere to existing guidelines,” said lead author Megan Moreno, M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H., division chief of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Some cannabis companies generated dozens of social media posts per day, and there is no current system in place to monitor or enforce these regulations. However, it was surprising to see how the presence of guidelines made a difference between states.”
What the Findings Show
Discounts or promotions were found in approximately 35 percent of the posts, researchers said. “Overconsumption” was found in 12 percent percent of all posts. Content containing warnings, “despite being required,” researchers said, were evident in less than half of all posts.
The researchers noted that Washington State, for example, prohibits displaying branded products, such as T-shirts with a company logo. But they found that about one percent of the posts on social media from Washington state cannabis companies ignored this restriction.
The research team did admit that “in states without this regulation, these types of posts appeared between five and 10 times more frequently. So while regulation did not guarantee compliance, it seemed to have an impact on how often companies shared content that may or may not be restricted.”
“As a pediatrician, I know that marketing and advertisements have a strong influence on kids and teens,” said Moreno. “Previous studies have shown how alcohol and tobacco companies’ marketing is associated with youth using these products.”
She continued, “Parents should talk with their kids about how cannabis companies seek to influence them by using youth-friendly approaches, like using 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 such as this impact Meta policy. “I don’t think the results of this study have any impact on Meta censoring cannabis brands because they justify their actions by saying cannabis is federally illegal in the U.S. and therefore not allowed anywhere in the world, even in countries where it’s federally legal, like Canada,” ADCANN CEO Cody Hicks told High Times. ADCANN provides cannabis marketing tools, such as how to restore an Instagram account if it’s been disabled because of cannabis.
We Have Questions
If legal cannabis companies are targeting teens, it doesn’t appear to be working. A separate, broad study published in the JAMA Pediatrics—using data from national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1993 to 2017, researchers from Montana State University, University of Oregon, University of Colorado–Denver and San Diego State University—examined states that had legalized medical and adult use cannabis and the likelihood of teen use (during the past 30 days).
The study analyzed data from 27 states and the District of Columbia, and seven states where adult use of cannabis is legal, during a 25-year time period. Adult-use cannabis laws were associated with a eight percent decrease in the likelihood of teens trying cannabis, as well as a nine percent reduction in the odds of frequent cannabis use, the study found. They found medical cannabis laws had no significant effect on teen cannabis use.
Usually, headlines about children and cannabis tend to pop up around Halloween, yearly. Bias focused on the harm (or benefits) of cannabis abounds in both clinical and nonclinical cannabis-related research.
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Are cannabis companies targeting teens on social media? We have questions.
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