Study: Youth Access to THC Vaping Videos Troubling

The cannabis vaping industry may be making some of the same mistakes as the nicotine vaping industry. A study led by University of Queensland researchers finds that YouTube videos glorifying cannabis vaping as fun and joyful are widely available and easily accessible by youth. The videos studied showed elements of risk-taking behavior including vaping a whole cartridge of THC—the main psychoactive compound in cannabis—in a single setting, and 52 percent of videos had no age access restrictions.

cannabis vape
photo: Jeremynathan | Dreamstime

Lead author Ph.D. student Carmen Lim from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research said the volume and accessibility of YouTube videos promoting cannabis vaping was concerning. It was also an issue faced by nicotine vaping companies and is often labeled as a cause for the rise in youth vaping.

“There’s been an increase in the potency of cannabis over the last two decades, and more recently, there has been a significant rise in the number of young people who are vaping cannabis,” Miss Lim said. “Unrestricted access to the large volume of YouTube videos portraying cannabis vaping as fun and joyful could increase uptake among adolescents.”

The UQ research team searched for cannabis vaping videos on YouTube between 2016 and 2020 and categorized these into prominent themes—advertisement, product review, celebratory, reflective, how-to, and warning.

Metrics around the number of views, likes, dislikes, and comments for each video were recorded, according to an article in MedicalXpress. Co-lead author Dr. Gary Chan from UQ’s National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research said many of the YouTube videos on vaping cannabis had no age restrictions, meaning children and adolescents could easily access them.

“Only around 25 percent of cannabis vaping-related videos communicate the potential harms of cannabis vaping,” Chan said. “The videos with a ‘how-to’ theme were viewed more than five million times and videos with a ‘celebratory’ theme, expressing the fun and joy of cannabis vaping, were viewed more than seven million times. As YouTube has become a popular source of accessing cannabis-related information, we need to reduce the accessibility of cannabis-related content to adolescents.”

This is the first study to examine the availability of cannabis vaping videos on YouTube since cannabis became legal in many jurisdictions in North America. The researchers hope the study results are used to inform a future regulatory framework on YouTube and other social media platforms around mandating age restrictions on videos promoting cannabis use.

This research is published in Addiction.