Teens Who View Marijuana Ads Twice as Likely to Use the Drug, Study Finds

Teenagers who see advertisements for medical marijuana are more likely to try the drug in the future, according to new research.

The study is the first to explore a link between marijuana advertising and youth behavior. Advertising for medical marijuana services has appeared on billboards, online, in newspapers and on television. Many medical marijuana dispensaries also have visible storefronts.

“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,” said Dr. Elizabeth D'Amico, lead author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, 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."

The researchers analyzed information collected from 8,214 students enrolled in middle school, ages 11-14, who attended 16 Southern California middle schools during 2010 and 2011.

The students were asked each year about exposure to medical marijuana advertising, marijuana use and their intentions about whether to use marijuana in the future.

During the first survey, 22 percent of the students reported seeing at least one advertisement for medical marijuana over the past three months and the rate jumped to 30 per cent the following year. Students who saw the ads were more likely to report that they intended to use the drug in future.

The researchers said this is important as previous research has shown using marijuana during early adolescence is linked with poor school performance, psychological problems and further use of illicit drugs. Researchers advised that prevention efforts better emphasize the negative effects that marijuana can have on the brain and school and athletic performance.

Researchers also stated that the findings also emphasize the need for a policy discussion about whether regulations may be needed to limit advertising about marijuana for both medical and recreational use, such as the regulations in place that govern advertising of alcohol and tobacco.

The study was published by the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

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 CADCA’s free online course, “What Do We Know About Marijuana?”