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RAND Study Says Cannabis Ads May Increase Underage Use



RAND Study Says Cannabis Ads May Increase Underage Use

Sidewalk ads outside a west Denver medical marijuana dispensary advertise low prices and “Clones Galore!” on Monday, Aug. 13, 2012. After complaints such ads are unseemly, the Denver City Council voted Monday to ban outdoor marijuana advertising including billboards, bus placards and sign-spinners. (AP Photo/Kristen Wyatt)




In a study that could affect the future of cannabis advertising and ad regulations, researchers with the RAND Corporation have found that medical marijuana advertising may contribute to increased cannabis use among adolescents. The study was published early Wednesday in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Adolescents who reported higher than average exposure to medical marijuana ads also tended to report greater marijuana use, the study found.

The study, led by Elizabeth D’Amico, followed a cohort of nearly 2,500 young students in Southern California from 2008 through 2017. D’Amico and her colleagues surveyed sixth and seventh graders (ages 11-12) in 2008 and followed them through high school (age 19). Of about 5,000 students who originally answered questions, about 2,500 completed the entire eight-year study. (Many of the others moved away, did not respond, or scattered to disparate high schools.)

Students were asked to estimate how often they had seen medical marijuana ads in the past three months. In 2010, 25% of adolescents tested reported being exposed to at least one ad. By 2017, 70% reported seeing at least one medical cannabis ad over the previous three months.

D’Amico’s main takeaways were:

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The Thinking Has Already Begun

As with many studies dealing with cannabis, the published results here run behind the reality on the ground. The RAND study looked at the impact of advertising during California’s wild-west medical marijuana era, when production, sales, and marketing of medical cannabis were entirely unregulated by the state.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, cannabis advertising in California has been strictly regulated
by the California Cannabis Control Board, which takes pains to make sure ads aren’t targeting kids.

Cannabis advertising is also heavily regulated in the seven other adult-use states.

In Canada, advertising regulations are still being worked out by each individual province. Federal legalization legislation
introduced last year included a ban on advertising that “appeals to young persons” or connects cannabis to a way of life that includes “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”

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Ads Themselves, Not Aimed at Kids

The RAND study seems to suggest, however, that it’s not so much ads targeting teens that are changing their attitudes toward cannabis as it is advertising in general. The researchers suggest that the mere presence of cannabis marketing of any kind acts to normalize the use of cannabis, whether for health or social purposes. Exposure to such ads, the researchers say, tends to build “stronger positive expectancies about marijuana use.”

“For example,” write the study’s authors, “more than 50% of 10th and 12th graders across the United States now endorse the belief that smoking marijuana regularly does not carry great risk.”

That’s a tricky question, because cannabis use can carry risk to the developing teen brain, and can contain an especially high risk for teens with a family history of schizophrenia. But for adults, studies have shown that smoking cannabis carries far fewer health risks than consuming alcohol or smoking tobacco. https://www.leafly.com/news/health/heres-national-academys-medical-cannabis-report-actually-says

The RAND study will certainly inject new life into the debate over the appropriate tone, style, and place of cannabis marketing—and may spark more interest in science-based cannabis education for adolescents.