Medical Marijuana: Adolescents Exposed To Ads Twice As Likely To Report Substance Abuse

First Posted: Jul 07, 2015 11:30 AM EDT

New findings published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors reveal that youth who saw advertising for medical marijuana were twice as likely as peers who said they never saw an ad for the substance to report wanting to use it or doing so in the future.

For the study, researchers collected data from more than 8,000 southern California middle school students. The students were asked about their exposure to medical marijuana advertising every year, along with their marijuana use and their intentions regarding drug use in the future.

The first survey revealed that 22 percent of the students reported seeing at least one advertisement for medical marijuana within the past three months. From there, the same rate jumped to 30 percent the following year.

Findings revealed that seeing advertisements for the drug were related to middle school adolescents' intentions to use it and their actual marijuana use one year later. Furthermore, researchers said that it was particularly important given that the mean age of adolescents surveyed was just about 13 and initiation of marijuana during adolescence can oftentimes interfere with attention span, hinder academic performance and even increase the risk of further illicit substances, according to researchers.

"As prohibitions on marijuana ease and sales of marijuana become more visible, it's important to think about how we need to change the way we talk to young people about the risks posed by the drug," Elizabeth D'Amico, lead author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, said in a news release. "The lessons we have learned from alcohol -- a substance that is legal, but not necessarily safe -- may provide guidance about approaches we need to take toward marijuana."

However, the study results could not confirm whether adolescents who were predisposed to use marijuana paid more attention to medical marijuana advertising or whether the advertising potentially influenced adolescents' attitudes toward the drug.

"Given that advertising typically tells only one side of the story, prevention efforts must begin to better educate youth about how medical marijuana is used, while also emphasizing the negative effects that marijuana can have on the brain and performance," D'Amico concluded.

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