A recent study by the Washington State University (WSU) found that after viewing cannabis advertising and social media content, teenage boys frequently expected to be “less inhibited” and to “enjoy” sex more, and they were more likely to express an interest in using cannabis in the future. The study — titled Social Media, Marijuana and Sex: An Exploratory Study of Adolescents’ Intentions to Use and College Students’ Use of Marijuana — found that after viewing the same ads, adolescent girls, college-age women, and college-age men did not draw the same conclusions about sex and cannabis as teenage boys, although pro-cannabis ads still had an impact on their perceptions of cannabis.
The study looked at surveys from two groups made up of 315 seventeen-year-olds and nearly 1,000 college-age young adults. The survey asked about their social media habits, how much pro-cannabis content they were exposed to (whether ads or user-generated), their attitudes toward sex and cannabis, and their intentions of using cannabis in the future. Young adults were asked an additional question about their cannabis use as adult-use cannabis is legal in Washington.
The study found that, regardless of age or gender, viewing pro-cannabis content on social media increased participants’ intentions to use cannabis. However, only teenage boys expressed an increased propensity to use cannabis based on their perception of cannabis and sex.
Jessica Fitts Willoughby, the study’s lead author and an associate professor with the Murrow College of Communication, told WSU News, “The messages adolescents and young adults are seeing are part of what is having an impact, the type of appeal and the content, not just the fact that young people are seeing these messages on social media.”
The authors say parents and teens should consider having conversations about cannabis and sex. They also suggest that more critical viewing of such content may help curb any unrealistic associations or expectations. Additionally, despite Washington already having strict rules around cannabis advertising, the authors suggest the industry consider regulations similar to alcohol that prohibit ads explicitly linking cannabis products to sex.
In a related story, Washington is in the midst of a statewide fight to repeal an early sex education program passed in the 2020 legislative session.