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American Youth Read Pro-Marijuana Tweets Regularly

Update Date: Jun 28, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

Many of America's youth are exposed to pro-marijuana tweets regularly, a new study reported. The researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that hundreds of thousands of young people follow Twitter accounts that are related to marijuana.

"As people are becoming more accepting of marijuana use and two states have legalized the drug for recreational use, it is important to remember that it remains a dangerous drug of abuse," said principal investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD according to Medical Xpress. "I've been studying what is influencing attitudes to change dramatically and where people may be getting messages about marijuana that are leading them to believe the drug is not hazardous."

For this study, the team examined messages taken from a twitter account called Weed Tweets@stillblazintho between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2013. The researchers decided to pick this twitter account over many others because it has the most followers at around one million. The researchers counted an average of 11 marijuana tweets per day during the study's eight-month time span.

There were a total of 2,285 tweets. 82 percent of the tweets were considered pro-marijuana and 18 percent were neutral or were not related to marijuana. 0.3 percent of the tweets were negative. The researchers found that a lot of the tweets were humorous. Other tweets hinted that marijuana could help people relax.

"These are risky ages when young people often begin experimentation with drugs," explained Cavazos-Rehg, an assistant professor of psychiatry. "It's an age when people are impressionable and when substance-use behaviors can transition into addiction. In other words, it's a very risky time of life for people to be receiving messages like these."

The team calculated that 73 percent of the people who read these tweets were under 19-years-old. 54 percent of the young adults who were exposed to the tweets were between the ages of 17 and 19. Nearly 20 percent of the people who read the tweets were 16 or younger. The older age groups read these tweets less frequently. The team also looked into the ethnicities of the twitter followers. They found that African-Americans and Hispanics were exposed to these tweets more frequently than Caucasians.

"There are celebrities who tweet to hundreds of thousands of followers, and it turns out a Twitter handle that promotes substance use can be equally popular," Cavazos-Rehg said. "Because there's not much regulation of social media platforms, that could lead to potentially harmful messages being distributed. Regulating this sort of thing is going to be challenging, but the more we can provide evidence that harmful messages are being received by vulnerable kids, the more likely it is we can have a discussion about the types of regulation that might be appropriate."

The study, "Characterizing the followers and Tweets of a marijuana-focused Twitter handle," was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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