Analysis of almost 900 TikTok videos has found content about cannabis use typically shows it as funny and entertaining rather than potentially risky.
Researchers from the University of Queensland spent hours sifting through videos on the social media platform to find 54% had a positive sentiment, and were viewed more than 417 million times.
“Only 24 of the 881 videos – or 2.7% – warned audiences of the dangers associated with high-frequency cannabis use,” lead author and PhD student Brienna Rutherford says.
“The majority of content is coming from parts of the world where recreational use of the drug is legal,” Ms Rutherford says. “But when you’re seeing it from countries where it’s not legalised, it can influence those attitudes.”
The “vast majority” of videos analysed in the research depicted cannabis use as humorous or entertaining, co-author Gary Chan said.
“Around 42% of videos featured the creator discussing their personal cannabis use experiences and close to a quarter promoted the acceptability of using it socially or culturally,” Dr Chan said.
There are more than a million young Australians using TikTok, and there is an “urgent need” for age restrictions or warning banners for publicly available content showing substance use, Ms Rutherford says.
According to the platform’s community guidelines, it “does not allow the depiction, promotion, or trade of drugs or other controlled substances”.
Miss Rutherford said TikTok had recently made moves to protect young people from risky behaviour online, including removing hashtags explicitly referencing substance use, however, the videos were still publicly available.
“Cannabis remains one of the most widely used substances internationally among young people and was linked to increased risk of depression and suicide in young adulthood,” she said.
The platform has more than a billion active users globally, and in America a third are under the age of 14, Ms Rutherford said.
“There is a significant opportunity to minimise the exposure of positive substance use messaging through improved regulation and monitoring.”
The research forms part of a larger project about how substance use is shown on social media, and how it can be used for public health.
Original content from Comms Room. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.
Nina Alvarez is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel. Her interests include writing, particularly about the healthcare sector and the many ways it can improve to further benefit people from all walks of life.