Color us surprised, but apparently the Internets love weed. A lot.
Researchers who analyzed Twitter feeds say there were more than 7 million tweets referencing marijuana during a single month early last year. And those tweets were overwhelmingly positive: Fifteen times more tweets supported weed than opposed it.
Most of the posts, not surprisingly, came from teens and young adults. This can be taken as an incredibly hopeful sign for the future of cannabis policy. But some experts worry it means too many kids are toking.
“It’s a concern because frequent marijuana use can affect brain structures and interfere with cognitive function, emotional development, and academic performance,” said author Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, assistant professor of psychiatry and author of the study.
“The younger people are when they begin using marijuana, the more likely they are to become dependent,” Cavazors-Rehg added. “A lot of young people will phase out of marijuana use as they get older, but unfortunately, we’re not good at predicting who those individuals are.”
Teen use has not spiked with legalization
There’s one big problem with that perspective, though: Recent studies have demonstrated no spike in teen pot use in states where the drug is now legal. It’s possible, in other words, that the frequent marijuana references on Twitter reflect a change in pop culture rather than a change in youth drug habits.
The new data from Twitter may simply mean that teens and young adults are more comfortable talking openly about cannabis, regardless of whether they use it. But the study hardly suggests that addiction rates are increasing or causing massive social problems.
7.6 million weed-related tweets in a month
Building on a previous study of a Twitter account called Weed Tweets, researchers worked with social media analytics experts to locate every weed-related tweet between February and March of 2014. Searches for terms such as “blunt,” “stoner,” “weed,” and “bong” returned more than 7.6 million tweets.
The analysis focused on Twitter accounts with at least 775 followers and a score of 44 or better out of 100 on the Kiout scale, which measures social media influence.
The researchers further examined a subset of 7,000 tweets about cannabis and learned that 77 percent supported weed while 18 percent were neutral and just 5 percent opposed it.
What’s more, people who want reform generally have far more followers than people who oppose it. Pro-pot tweets reached more than 50 million Twitter followers, while anti-weed posts reached just 4 million.
That should tell us a great deal about the power of social media to change hearts and minds. Before people will back change, they have to be convinced the status quo doesn’t work. That would appear to be happening in almost every corner of the Web.