Most Medical Cannabis Tweets are Pro-Cannabis, Study Finds
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Most posts regarding medicinal cannabis from Twitter users in the United States are pro-cannabis in nature, according to a new analysis done by researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia.
In a report published today in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, the researchers examined a sample of tweets relating to medicinal cannabis which were posted in the first half of 2021. They found that the majority of tweets were positive and tended to focus on four main topic areas: policy, therapeutic value, sales and industry opportunities, and adverse effects.
This new analysis of online attitudes towards medicinal cannabis comes out just days after Twitter announced that it would begin allowing US cannabis companies to advertise their products and services on the site, becoming the first major social media platform to do so.
Twitter users are talking about cannabis policy
For this analysis, the researchers searched for and collected a total of more than 121,000 tweets that referenced medicinal cannabis and conditions commonly addressed using medicinal cannabis, such as anxiety.
After removing duplicate tweets and tweets from unknown locations, the researchers were left with a total of 25,099 unique tweets from Twitter users in the 50 US states and Washington DC, which had been posted between 1 January and 30 June 2021. These tweets were also sub-categorized according to the legality of medical and recreational cannabis in their region of origin.
The researchers found that the majority of these tweets about medicinal cannabis were posted by members of the general public, with cannabis industry accounts and advocates being the next two most-represented sources. Just 1.2% of the tweets captured for analysis were determined to have come from bot or spam accounts.
A random subsample of 750 tweets was also taken and used for more detailed content analysis. From these tweets, the researchers identified four main themes that dominated the online conversation: policy, therapeutic value, sales and industry opportunities, and adverse effects.
Policy was the most common theme in areas where any cannabis use was still prohibited, with the majority of these tweets being pro-cannabis and advocating for cannabis policy reform. Tweets about crime also frequently fell under this topic umbrella, as many tweets thematically highlighted the criminal justice consequences of legalization.
The researchers found that the therapeutic value theme was largely made up of Twitter users speaking about their own use of medicinal cannabis to treat a variety of chronic health conditions. Around 3-4% of the analyzed tweets also included research articles referencing the beneficial effects of medicinal cannabis use.
Online discussion may gloss over negative aspects
While this study provides a good snapshot of the online public discourse over medicinal cannabis use in the United States, the researchers believe that it also raises some concerns.
For example, there was evidence showing numerous instances where Twitter users would make recommendations to other users about different types of cannabis products or dosages, without the input of a health professional. The potential adverse effects of cannabis use were also discussed far less frequently than other topics.
Several tweets from commercial accounts were seen to be spreading unsubstantiated health claims about medical cannabis products, as were social bot accounts. In light of the large online followings that many cannabis vendors have gathered, the researchers say that these posts could have a significant effect on the public perception of cannabis.
“Although our findings may not represent the views of all Twitter or cannabis users, the presence of tweets on unsubstantiated health claims, adverse effects of using medicinal cannabis, and crime-related tweets highlighted the importance of content regulation and the continuity of monitoring public conversations to allow us to estimate cannabis-related harms to inform health surveillance and future research,” the authors wrote.
Tweets relating to promotional activity were also identified even in regions where cannabis was prohibited. This included the distribution of discount codes, but also the advertisement of delta-8 THC products as being some “legal alternative” to traditional cannabis products.
Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first warning letters against delta-8 THC products. While the legal status of delta-8 THC is still a relative gray area at the federal level, a number of states have decided to ban the compound. The continued monitoring and study of content related to these products may become a particularly relevant issue as the legality of delta-8 THC continues to be debated at the state and federal level.