Marijuana Content on Digital Media and Marijuana Use among Young People in the United States


  • Yoonsang Kim NORC at the University of Chicago
  • Lisa Vera VeraCite Inc.
  • Jidong Huang Georgia State University
  • Sherry Emery NORC at the University of Chicago


Health behavior theory establishes that exposure to media messages about a topic influences related knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. Marijuana-related messages proliferating on digital media likely affect attitudes and behavior about marijuana. Most research studying marijuana-related media effects on behavior relies on self-reported survey measures, which are subject to bias; people find it difficult to recall timing, frequency, and sources of messages. We calculated an exogenous measure of exposure to marijuana-related messages on digital media based on emerging public communication environment (PCE) theory. Aggregated online searches and social media posts related to marijuana for a given place reflect the marijuana-related PCE, where people are exposed to and engage with messages from multiple sources. Exogenous measures overcome bias in self-reported exposure and outcome data: simultaneity bias and endogeneity. The PCE reflects both potential exposure and relative importance of the topic in the local community, which may influence real-world marijuana use. Using 2017 Twitter and Google Search data, we measured the marijuana-related PCE to quantify where opportunities for exposure to marijuana-related posts were high and examined relationships between potential exposure and current marijuana use among youth and young adults in 2018. We found that marijuana-related online search and tweeting at the media market level are associated with offline marijuana use, controlling for demographics and state marijuana policy. The marijuana-related digital media environment may reflect and/or influence youth and young adult marijuana use. Social media and online search data offer platforms to monitor the marijuana-related PCE and supplement survey data to study media exposure and marijuana use behavior.






Brief Report