After analyzing almost every marijuana related tweet sent during a one-month period in early 2014, researchers have discovered there are 15 times as many pro-pot tweets sent as anti-pot tweets. This makes Twitter a highly pot-friendly social network. However, the findings raise some serious discussions regarding drug use and their widespread communication. Alcohol and cigarettes, two vicious drugs, are legal but banned from TV so that they might not influence consumers, especially adolescents and young adults who are most vulnerable. Social media channels, like facebook and twitter, might be just as influential.
Smoking on social networks
According to the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis most of the users sending and receiving the tweets were under age 25, with many in their teens, a demographic group at increased risk for developing marijuana dependence and other drug-related problems.
"It's a concern because frequent marijuana use can affect brain structures and interfere with cognitive function, emotional development and academic performance," said first author Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and scholar in the Washington University Institute for Public Health. "The younger people are when they begin using marijuana, the more likely they are to become dependent. A lot of young people will phase out of marijuana use as they get older, but unfortunately, we're not good at predicting who those individuals are."
A computer program was developed that mined marijuana related tweets which contained keywords like "joint," "blunt," "weed," "stoner" and "bong". Some 7.6 million tweets related to pot were identified. To further refine the sample size, the team focused their analysis on Twitter accounts with more than 775 followers as well as accounts with Klout scores of 44 and above. A Klout score measures social media influence on a scale of 1-100.
A random sample of almost 7,000 tweets was selected and manually verified. It was found that 77 percent were pro marijuana, 5 percent were against pot, and 18 percent were neutral. People tweeting pro-marijuana messages had a total of more than 50 million Twitter followers, about 12 times more than those tweeting anti-marijuana messages.
Pro-pot tweets most commonly were aimed at encouraging the use of marijuana and its legalization and made claims about the drug's health benefits. Not surprisingly considering how much people smoking pot like to talk about how they're smoking pot or other times they were smoking pot, ten percent of the pro-marijuana tweets were sent by people who said they were currently using pot or high.
Anti-marijuana tweets often stated that the drug's users were losers or unproductive or that marijuana use is unattractive. Those whose tweets were anti-pot also stressed that the drug was harmful or that the person tweeting was against legalization.
"Many people believe marijuana use is harmless, and social media conversations almost certainly drive some of those opinions, making the drug appear socially acceptable," she said.
"Although we can't yet link pro-pot tweets to actual drug use, we should be worried because many people are receiving these messages are at an age when they are most likely to experiment with drugs and develop problems with substance use," Cavazos-Rehg said.
Cavazos-Rehg PA, Krauss M, Fisher SL, Salyer P, Grucza RA, Bierut LJ. Twitter chatter about marijuana. Journal of Adolescent Health. Published online, Jan. 22, 2015; in print February, 2015. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 DA032843, R01 DA039455, K02 DA021237 and R01 DA031288.