Washington University researchers spent eight months analyzing tweets about marijuana use and came to the conclusion that young people might be influenced by pictures of Spongebob Squarepants smoking weed.
In the study, which was paid for by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg led a three-person research team that analyzed thousands of tweets from @stillblazingtho, a popular Twitter account that mostly posts humorous memes about getting high. The account was chosen because it has more than 1 million followers, including pop star Rihanna.
And like Rihanna, the Wash. U. researchers say that many of @stillblazingtho's followers are young, which means its pro-marijuana messages are being inhaled by impressionable minds.
When you're smoking and hear police sirens pic.twitter.com/QK5YUJBulj— Weed Tweets ™ (@stillblazingtho) July 2, 2014
The study claims that 73 percent of the @stillblazingtho's followers are under the age of nineteen (and are supposedly real people). Researchers came to this conclusion by taking a random sample of 50,000 followers and then did this:
"...data signals were filtered and amplified using large proprietary knowledge bases of established correlations between data points and demographic characteristics. The multiple amplified signals were combined using a series of algorithms to estimate or infer the likely demographic characteristics."
"The [followers] are mostly youth and young adults and that's a very risky age," says Cavazos-Rehg. "That's when substance use initiation tends to occur. That's when people are the most impressionable. That's when substance use behavior turns to addiction."
Cavazos-Rehg did the study in an attempt to get a better understanding of why more than 50 percent of Americans favor legalization, 60 percent of high school seniors don't believe marijuana is harmful, and more people consider it safe to use for medicinal purposes.
"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," she says. "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."
Click on the next page for more science and more weed tweets...
The study says that @stillblazingtho's tweets are mostly humorous, which likely contributes to the increasingly positive perception marijuana has (although Cheech and Chong probably deserve some credit, too). But not all of the popular account's tweets are just funny memes; a few have a political bent:
The fucked up world we live in pic.twitter.com/5NWQ7wfmCz— Weed Tweets ™ (@stillblazingtho) June 1, 2014
And there are some about romance, too:
Now that's love pic.twitter.com/v8iEzcQzzP— Weed Tweets ™ (@stillblazingtho) June 15, 2014
Despite Cavazos-Rehg's concerns that @stillblazingtho has influence over young people, she admits that the study can't make an indefinite conclusion that memes of Woody from Toy Story lying in a bed of buds is causing young people to light up -- but she's pretty sure it does.
When you get back from your dealer pic.twitter.com/XXBOY3XIGz— Weed Tweets ™ (@stillblazingtho) May 15, 2014
"With the study we can't say that the media messages then led to marijuana use behaviors," says Cavazos-Rehg. "But if we look at the studies that have been done that examined traditional media outlets like television, radio, billboards, magazines, there have been longitudinal studies that have shown that media messages are influential on substance use behaviors and attitudes."
According to McClatchy, federal grants to study marijuana have risen in recent years, with most of it going towards so-called "anti-marijuana" research.
Daily RFT reached out to Wash. U. to find out how much was spent on the study. We'll update when we hear back.
Follow Ray Downs on Twitter:
E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.