Protecting young people from cannabis marketing

Concerns about cannabis use have steadily diminished in recent years, alongside an increase in support for its legalization. It’s no wonder, then, that cannabis use has increased across a range of demographic groups, including teens (whose heavy use has increased 245% since 2000), pregnant women, the elderly, young men, blacks and Native Americans, and people with less education.

Unsplash |  Well Chan

Source: Unsplash | Well Chan

Yet, as the popularity of cannabis blossoms, so does the body of research linking pot to adverse effects. Among them: increased risks of psychosis, anxiety, depression and physical health problems; impaired cardiovascular health and increased risk of cardiac arrest; obesity; traffic fatalities and injuries; and an increased likelihood of substance use disorders.

Marijuana has also been found to impair immune cell function, increasing users’ susceptibility to viral infections and inflammation.

Given that earlier age of first use predicts a higher lifetime risk of addiction – one in six people who start using cannabis in adolescence develop a cannabis use disorder – the recent increase in marijuana use among adolescents is of particular concern.

Many factors influence consumption among adolescents. The proportion of peers and family members in an adolescent’s life who use cannabis, as well as an adolescent’s level of psychological distress, are two major influences (a greater number of each predicting a greater likelihood of consumption). Advertising and marketing are two more.

How Advertising Affects Marijuana Use Among Teens

A study led by Pamela Trangenstein, Ph.D., MPH, took a closer look at how cannabis marketing influences teen use. His team surveyed 452 young people (ages 15-19) from states where cannabis is legal about their consumption habits, their exposure to cannabis-related marketing, and their knowledge of or interest in cannabis and brand-name products. cannabis.

Of the 172 respondents who had used marijuana, those who regularly saw billboards promoting cannabis products were more than seven times more likely to report frequent cannabis use and more than five times more likely to have a cannabis use disorder. Interestingly, cannabis ads on social media did not show similar effects.

Cannabis brand engagement (expressing an interest in buying or wearing merchandise displaying cannabis products and logos) also predicted use: teens who owned or considered themselves likely to own branded products cannabis users were 23 times more likely to have ever used marijuana and 2.7 times more likely to have a cannabis use disorder.

How Teenagers Get Addicted and Why We Should Be Worried

As the Trangenstein team pointed out, “75% of the cannabis sold and 60% of the company’s profits are attributable to the 20% of cannabis consumers who use it daily and almost daily.” Cannabis companies therefore have an incentive to hook users more. – and aggressive marketing efforts to achieve this may have a greater effect on adolescents, whose brains are not developed enough to consider the long-term consequences of immediately rewarding behaviors (such as “fitting in”, “having looking cool” or temporarily alleviating teenage anxiety by getting high).

Marketing can increase the extent to which teens view products as part of their core identity. And the more young adults view marijuana as an important part of their self-image or identity, the more likely they are to use and abuse it.

How you can help

Anyone who regularly interacts with adolescents should check in with them if they are experiencing distress, refer them to mental health professionals if necessary, and help them develop positive coping skills and healthy relationships that promote good. -being and resilience. This protects them from the powerful influence of negative psychological states and social influences that can lead them to use cannabis.

Getting teens involved in extracurricular activities they enjoy or part-time jobs that require reasonable responsibilities can also help them develop identities and friendship groups that make cannabis use less appealing.

As for marketing? In addition to appealing to local, state, and federal officials to enforce regulations, parents, educators, and others can help teens become more media literate.

media education

Media literacy is the ability to apply critical thinking skills to advertisements and other media messages while engaging in thoughtful media creation. The first part of this skill is the most important in protecting teenagers from the effects of cannabis marketing.

We need to teach teenagers that marketers want to that they buy and consume their products, and we need to give them the value (and the “coolness”) to recognize these schemes so that they don’t get duped (or be a “sucker”). Social identity is hugely important to teens, so it’s helpful to frame resistance to drug marketing as hip, cool, or otherwise indicative of high social status — and expose them to role models who don’t use drugs. cannabis. Likewise, conveys the idea that someone who consumes cannabis excessively or presents branded cannabis products is definitely not “cool”.

Unsplash |  sofatutor

Source: Unsplash | sofatutor

Olga Polites, State Advocacy Leader at Media Literacy Now and Adjunct Instructor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, offers some additional strategies for building teens’ critical thinking skills and attitudes toward cannabis marketing.

Polites advises encouraging teens to ask these questions when they see cannabis ads:

  • Who is broadcasting this message?
  • Does anyone make money from this message?
  • What persuasion techniques are used to get my attention?
  • Who is the ad trying to reach?

As a psychotherapist, I would also add the following questions:

  • What would I lose by giving in to this messaging / buying this product?
  • How is this message trying to “trick” me?
  • What would be the benefits of not giving in to this message?
  • Where can I find more specific information about this messaging system (who can I trust to give me an informed opinion)?

“Media literacy is an important element for young people to become active and responsible members of our society,” Polites said. “And it really doesn’t take long to teach teens how media manipulation works. Honing critical thinking skills can also help teens resist more than just the pull of cannabis marketing,” she adds. Being able to question a message’s intent, source, and trustworthiness can also help teens be less sensitive to misinformation encountered online and elsewhere.

For additional resources on media literacy, see Rowan University’s News Literacy Toolkit, Stanford University’s Online Civic Reasoning, and Media and Information Literacy Resources. ‘University of Tennessee.

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