Data from over 8,000 students show a potential link between exposure to medical marijuana marketing and marijuana use. In the United States medical marijuana ads appear on TV, billboards, medical dispensary store fronts and in newspapers. Young adults that viewed such commercials were found to be twice as likely to use marijuana or said they planned to use it in the future than those not viewing them…

Adolescents who view medical marijuana ads are more likely to use marijuana, study finds

A new RAND Corporation study reveals: Adolescents exposed to advertising for medical marijuana were more likely to either report using marijuana or say they planned to use the substance in the future. The study was published online by the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. The RAND study is the first to explore a link between marijuana advertising and youth behavior.

Studying more than 8,000 Southern California middle school students, researchers found that youth who reported seeing any ads for medical marijuana were twice as likely to have used marijuana or report higher intentions to use the drug in the future compared to peers who reported never seeing marijuana advertising.

Researchers caution that they still cannot directly address whether being exposed to marijuana advertising does cause marijuana use. However, the study does raise questions about whether there is a need to revise prevention programming for youth as the availability, visibility and legalization surrounding marijuana changes.


“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 Elizabeth D’Amico, lead author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.


Over the past several years, medical marijuana has received more and more attention in the media. Use of the drug is skyrocketing across the United States, with the number of frequent marijuana users increasing by 40% since 2006.

Advertising for medical marijuana services has appeared on billboards, in newspapers and even on television. Many medical marijuana dispensaries have visible storefronts, as well.

RAND researchers analyzed information collected from 8,214 students enrolled in 6th, 7th and 8th grade 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. The rate jumped to 30% the following year.

Seeing advertisements for medical marijuana was related to middle school adolescents’ intentions to use marijuana and their actual marijuana use one year later. Researchers say this is particularly important given that the mean age of adolescents surveyed was 13 and initiation of marijuana use during adolescence is associated with a host of harms:

  • Poor school performance,
  • Neuropsychological performance deficits, and
  • Further use of other illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine.



For further reading:

Elizabeth J. D’Amico, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Joan S. Tucker. Gateway to Curiosity: Medical Marijuana Ads and Intention and Use During Middle School.. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2015; DOI: 10.1037/adb0000094

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