Researcher taps into Reddit to understand which social media-shared cannabis posts steered opinions the most

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Reddit – an online news and social media network of over 100,000 communities – is designed for curating viral content and, according to a curious researcher, stimulating opinion on cannabis-related laws and legal issues.

A Brown University researcher recently implemented machine technology to interpret over three million Reddit comments spanning from 2009-2019. The dates represented a turning point in the state-level cannabis reform movement.

Ph.D. candidate Babak Hemmatian examined multifarious Reddit posts to understand what types of user conversations most affected the public’s decision to back legalization efforts a growing trend, based on the latest Pew Research polling.

While it comes as no surprise to learn that social media can significantly mold political decisions, the research paper, titled, “Taking the High Road: A Big Data Investigation of Natural Discourse in the Emerging U.S. Consensus about Marijuana Legalization,” unearthed some unpredictable trends.

Reddit cannabis study identified numerous fascinating themes

Through his research experience and techniques, Hemmatian learned that, as opposed to anecdotes that are historically renowned for influencing people’s minds and emotions, the biggest influence on cannabis opinion emerged from Reddit users who posted more judgment-based arguments about reform.

“Cannabis legalization is a highly unusual topic in how a bipartisan consensus was reached in a matter of years while the American society was otherwise becoming more polarized,” Hemmatian said during a recent interview with Marijuana Moment reporters. “I wanted to know if the way the public discusses cannabis facilitated this unusual shift, and how the societal change in attitudes in turn affected how we talk about cannabis.”

“Anecdotes were less often used to persuade people, meaning their persuasive potential was somewhat wasted. Still, people did often briefly mention them to buttress more general claims like the mentioned character judgments,” said Hemmatian, who also identified some other themes.

One of those themes revealed that conversations about cannabis’ health impacts “only picked up after legalization was all but over, and only in casual conversations.” Also, he found that the legal implications of cannabis reform “were not prominently discussed even after legalization had succeeded in most states.”

Hemmatian mentioned that both topics were pertinent when exchanging views on/about cannabis deregulation, but were cast aside when lawmakers finalized their decisions.

“While not the most persuasive approach according to previous research, character judgments may have still pushed people who were on the fence but not diametrically opposed to legalization over to the pro-legalization camp,” he continued. “This is because they highly simplify decision-making: One no longer needs to know the complicated effects of cannabis on health, the economy and the society to make up their mind; they just need to think through their personal moral principles. This may have been comforting during a transition period when the uncertainty surrounding marijuana’s status would have been anxiety-inducing for many folks.”

Conclusion

In the past, users of the social media networking platform Reddit have assisted researchers in detecting cannabis patterns and trends. Reddit cannabis study author Hemmatian’s findings show that post shares of subscribed users represent the great influence that this type of media has on public opinion and knowledge.

Early cannabis legalization triumphs “depended on character judgments while the final nails were hammered into Prohibition’s coffin with Plot-focused strategies revolving around politics and crime. The shift happened entirely within the generalized portion of discourse, meaning that a non-compositional approach to frame classification would have missed it,” reads a final excerpt featured in the paper.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also becoming increasingly interested in the use of social media for cannabis research purposes. In fact, the Agency is expected to utilize Reddit and various other “novel” data references to get a clearer understanding of up-and-coming cannabis-derived compounds, such as delta-8 THC (D-8 THC), as well as to raise awareness on public health issues regarding CBD use.

Additionally, the FDA plans to form a system equipped with seeking out “safety signals and usage patterns associated with emerging CDPs in real-time.”