Protecting Youth From Cannabis Marketing – Psychology Today

Protecting Youth From Cannabis Marketing – Psychology Today

Our conversations are sprinkled with slips, pauses, lies, and clues to our inner world. Here’s what we reveal when we speak, whether we mean to or not.
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Posted December 10, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
Concerns over cannabis consumption have steadily declined in recent years alongside an uptick in support for its legalization. Small wonder, then, that cannabis consumption has increased across a range of demographics, including adolescents (whose excessive use increased by a whopping 245 percent since 2000), pregnant women, older adults, young men, Black and Native American individuals, and people with less education.
Yet as cannabis’s popularity blossoms, so too does the body of research linking pot with adverse effects. Among them: Increased risks of psychosis, anxiety, depression, and physical health conditions; impaired cardiovascular health and heightened risk of cardiac arrest; obesity; fatal traffic accidents and injuries; and increased likelihood of substance use disorders.
Marijuana has also been found to impair immune cell function, increasing users’ susceptibility to viral infections and inflammation.
Because earlier age of first use predicts a greater risk of lifetime substance abuseone in six people who begin cannabis use in adolescence develops cannabis use disorder—the recent rise in marijuana consumption among teens is especially concerning.
Many factors influence teens’ use. The proportion of peers and family members in a teen’s life who use cannabis, as well as a teen’s level of psychological distress, are two major influences (with more of each predicting greater odds of use). Advertising and marketing are two others.
A study spearheaded by Pamela Trangenstein, Ph.D., M.P.H., took a closer look at how cannabis marketing influences adolescents’ consumption. Her team surveyed 452 youth (15-19-year-olds) from states where cannabis is legal about their consumption habits, exposure to cannabis-related marketing, and their awareness of or interest in cannabis and cannabis-branded merchandise.
Of the 172 respondents who had used marijuana, those who regularly saw billboards promoting cannabis products were more than seven times as likely to report frequent cannabis use–and more than five times as likely to have a cannabis use disorder. Interestingly, cannabis ads on social media did not show similar effects.
Engagement with cannabis branding (expressing interest in purchasing or wearing merchandise displaying cannabis products and logos) also predicted use: Teens who owned or considered themselves likely to own cannabis-branded products were 23 times more likely to have ever used marijuana and 2.7 times more likely to have a cannabis use disorder.
As Trangenstein’s team pointed out, “75 percent of cannabis sold and 60 percent of the company profits are attributable to the 20 percent of cannabis users who use on a daily and near-daily basis.” So cannabis businesses are incentivized to hook users more heavily–and aggressive marketing efforts to achieve this may have a greater effect on teens, whose brains aren’t developed enough to consider long-term consequences of immediately gratifying behaviors (like “fitting in,” “looking cool,” or temporarily abating teenage angst by getting high).
Marketing can increase the extent to which adolescents consider products to be part of their core identity. And the more young adults consider marijuana to be an important part of their self-image or identity, the more likely they are to use and abuse it.
Anyone who regularly interacts with teens should check in with them about whether they’re experiencing distress, refer them to mental health professionals as necessary, and support them in building positive coping skills and healthy connections that nurture well-being and resilience. This helps bolster them from the powerful influence of negative psychological states and social influences that can incline them towards consuming cannabis.
Getting teens involved in extracurricular activities they enjoy or part-time jobs that demand reasonable amounts of responsibility can also help them develop identities and friend groups that render cannabis consumption less appealing.
As for marketing? Apart from appealing to local, state, and federal representatives to increase regulation, parents, educators, and others can help teens become more media literate.
Media literacy is the ability to apply critical thinking skills to advertisements and other media messages while also engaging in thoughtful media creation. The first part of this skill is most important in protecting teens from cannabis marketing’s effects.
We need to teach teens that marketers want them to buy and consume their products, and we need to impart the value (and “coolness”) of recognizing these ploys so as not to be duped (or be a “sucker”). Social identity is extremely salient to teens, so framing resistance to drug marketing as hip, cool, or otherwise indicative of high social status–and exposing them to role models who don’t consume cannabis–is helpful. So too, conveys the idea that someone who consumes cannabis excessively or showcases cannabis-branded products is most definitely not “cool.
Olga Polites, State Advocacy Leader at Media Literacy Now and Adjunct Instructor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, offers some additional strategies to boost teens’ critical thinking skills and attitudes toward cannabis marketing.
Polites advises encouraging teens to ask these questions when they see cannabis advertisements:
As a psychotherapist, I would also add the following questions:
“Media literacy is an important part of young people becoming active and responsible members of our society,” Polites says. “And it really doesn’t take a lot of time to explain to 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 the intent of a message, its source, and its reliability can also support teens in being less susceptible to misinformation encountered online and elsewhere.
For additional media literacy resources, check out Rowan University’s News Literacy Toolkit, Stanford University’s Civic Online Reasoning, and The University of Tennessee’s Information and Media Literacy resources.
Trangenstein, P. J., Whitehill, J. M., Jenkins, M. C., Jernigan, D. H., & Moreno, M. A. (2021). Cannabis marketing and problematic cannabis use among adolescents. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 82(2), 288-296.
Katherine (Schreiber) Cullen, MFA, LMSW, co-author of The Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark Side of Thinspiration, is a psychotherapist and writer based in New York City.
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Psychology Today © 2022 Sussex Publishers, LLC
Our conversations are sprinkled with slips, pauses, lies, and clues to our inner world. Here’s what we reveal when we speak, whether we mean to or not.


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