Marijuana is one of the most widely used drugs among American teenagers, and with the trend in marijuana legalization for adults, public health officials worry about the repercussions for teen users. In a study published in 2013 in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two U.S. universities looked at how teenagers react to anti-marijuana advertisements produced by the federal government’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.
Teen Marijuana Use
In partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers from the University of Michigan follow trends in teen marijuana use as part of an annual project called Monitoring the Future, which gathers information on patterns of intake and attitudes among U.S. 8th, 10th and 12th graders.
According to figures compiled from the most recent version of Monitoring the Future (completed in 2013), 12.7 percent of all 8th graders use marijuana at least once a year. The rate of annual use among 10th graders is 29.8 percent and the rate of annual use among 12th graders is 36.4 percent. For 8th and 10th graders, these figures represent a slight uptick over the previous year. Use among 12th graders did not increase from 2012 to 2013.
While usage rates among American teenagers increased only slightly in 2013, attitudes toward marijuana use in this age group changed considerably, part of an ongoing trend that began in 2005. Since 2005, the number of 8th graders who view marijuana use as “highly risky” has dropped by 13 percentage points. The number of 10th graders who view marijuana use this way has dropped by 19 percentage points over the same interval. The number of 12th graders who view marijuana use as highly risky has dropped by 18 percent. This trend is important because public health officials and addiction experts generally view a favorable attitude toward drug use as a significant factor in any given person’s chances of initiating drug use.
The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign
The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has been up and running since 1998. The campaign’s main program, called Above the Influence, is aimed at increasing teenagers’ awareness of the dangers of drug use and decreasing the perception of drug use as a desirable activity. In addition to producing nationwide anti-drug messages, Above the Influence provides support for state, regional and local efforts to get adolescents involved in community-centered anti-drug efforts. A separate component of the campaign, called the Anti-Meth Campaign, focuses on combating methamphetamine use among teenagers and younger adults between the ages of 18 and 34.
Teen Responses To Anti-Marijuana Ads
In the study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Claremont Graduate University and Texas Tech University looked at how a group of 2,993 preteens and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 responded to the ads produced by the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. These participants were separated into three groups: people who actively use marijuana, people who staunchly oppose marijuana use and people who may be susceptible to future marijuana use. The researchers compared the responses of these three groups and also assessed how current responses affect future levels of marijuana intake.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that teens with a preexisting opposition to marijuana use viewed the anti-marijuana messages much more favorably than their peers who either already used marijuana or had a susceptibility to future marijuana use. The teens in these last two groups typically viewed the anti-marijuana ads with an equal degree of negativity. However, not all of the users and potential users had similar attitudes toward marijuana. For example, when the researchers examined the study participants’ level of marijuana intake one year later, they found that, compared to the users who responded unfavorably to the anti-marijuana campaign, the marijuana users with a relatively favorable response to the campaign had reduced their average intake of the drug. They were also less likely to continue using marijuana.
Improving Anti-Marijuana Ad Campaign Messages To Decrease And Prevent Drug Use
The authors of the study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors believe that public health officials can use the information gathered on teens’ attitudes to help improve the effectiveness of their anti-marijuana campaigns. Specifically, campaign creators can tailor their messages in ways that make current users less likely to continue drug intake, make potential users less likely to begin marijuana intake and solidify the stance of teens who already avoid marijuana intake.
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