Videos studied showed elements of risk-taking behaviour, including vaping a whole cartridge containing THC.

Researchers reviewed a cross-sectional sample of 200 YouTube vaping videos from 2016 to 2020. / Photo by Getty Images

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Australian researchers are cautioning that unrestricted access to YouTube videos that portray vaping cannabis as fun could up weed use in adolescents.

Of concern was that more than half, 52 per cent, of the videos included as part of the study by University of Queensland researchers had no age restrictions.

Additionally, the videos “showed elements of risk-taking behaviour, including vaping a whole cartridge of THC” in a single setting, notes a statement from the university. “Videos that portrayed risky behaviour appear to be prevalent,” adds the abstract of the study, published this week in Addiction.

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“Unrestricted access to the large volume of YouTube videos portraying cannabis vaping as fun and joyful could increase uptake among adolescents,” Ph.D. student Carmen Lim, the study’s lead author and member of the university’s National Centre for Youth Substance Research (NCYSR), says in the statement.

Researchers reviewed a cross-sectional sample of 200 YouTube vaping videos from 2016 to 2020 to examine themes and metrics. As part of the explorations, the number of views, likes, dislikes and comments were taken into account.

From the research, six themes emerged: advertisement, product review, reflective, warning, celebratory (defined as showing people indulging in activities that could endanger health) and how‐to (defined as sharing how to and vblogging about cannabis vaping), with the latter two types of videos receiving the most views and likes. More specifically, how-to videos were viewed more than 5 million times and celebratory videos had more than 7 million views.

“The robust regression model also found that engagement metric was positively associated with ‘reflective’ videos and negatively associated with ‘advertisement’ videos,” the study abstract notes.

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Lim suggests the increase in cannabis potency over the last two decades, coupled with the rise in young people vaping cannabis, is of concern given the easy access to the videos.

“Only around 25 per cent of cannabis vaping-related videos communicate the potential harms of cannabis vaping,” says Gary Chan, the study’s co-lead author and member of the NCYSR.

Given YouTube’s popularity for gathering weed-related information, Lim and Chan say accessibility of such content to adolescents must be reduced.

They hope that findings “are used to inform a future regulatory framework on YouTube and other social media platforms around mandating age restrictions on videos promoting cannabis use.”

From the research, six themes emerged: advertisement, product review, reflective, warning, celebratory and how‐to. / Photo by metamorworks / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Canadian statistics released last year, however, indicate that cannabis legalization is not associated with more use of the plant, at least among teens. Statistics Canada figures showed that, pre-legalization, just shy of 20 per cent of 15- to 17-year-olds reported using weed in the past three months compared to just over 10 per cent post-legalization.

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