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."
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