How Media Use Influences Attitudes toward Marijuana Use


Media use has a direct effect on the attitude of its users towards various topics. Exposure to political campaigns on different media platforms can impose certain values and beliefs on the audience. There are also studies stating that exposure to violent content can lead to aggressive behaviors, especially in children. In the case of marijuana, media use possesses the same effect. The type of marijuana-related message that a particular content is expressing can affect the audience's attitude. Generally, media use increases substance use potential and normalizes marijuana.

Social Learning Theory

The Social Learning Theory plays a significant role in the effects of media use on an audience. This theory consists of four concepts which are; differential association, definitions, differential reinforcement, and imitation (Akers, 1979, cited in Aubut, 2018). The four concepts refer to different factors that can affect behavior, such as peer influence, obtained values, reward/punishment association, and role models. The use of media, especially social media, increases the exposure of an individual to different concepts. Social media exposes an individual to a variety of content in a short amount of time, leading to an increased potential for social learning.

Individuals using media are most susceptible to peer influence, reward/punishment association, and role models. Peer influence relates to the concept of differential association that states how an individual develops criminal behavior through peer influences (Aubut, 2018). On social media, individuals may see their friends posting about marijuana or other drugs. This can then influence them to experiment with the substance. Similarly, differential reinforcement states that an individual is likely to repeat a deviant behavior when the rewards outweigh the punishment (Aubut, 2018). In the case of social media and marijuana, individuals may receive “likes”, “hearts”, and other affirmative responses when posting about their use. The affirmative responses will act as the rewards for the action, thus reinforcing marijuana use.

Lastly, the concept of imitation can have a significant influence on audience behavior. This concept relates to role models and their influence over their audience or “fans”. Individuals are likely to imitate the behaviors of certain figures, such as actors and social media influencers, when they observe that their role model’s actions led to a reward-like response (Aubut, 2018). A good example of this is the rapper and media personality, Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg smokes marijuana publicly and openly talks about his usage. His fans may see that his actions have led to his popularity and assess that the reward for his marijuana use was fame. This can lead his fans to imitate him, potentially increasing their usage of marijuana.

Media Use and Marijuana

Increases Potential Use

Aside from the Social Learning Theory, there is also an abundance of studies regarding the relationship between media use and marijuana. In Moreno et al.'s (2018) article, the author stated that positive marijuana messages on various media platforms can increase the risk of substance use. Particularly, marijuana-related businesses utilize this concept to market their products and improve their sales. The effectiveness of this marketing technique led to the author creating the article to establish preventive methods against positive marijuana messages. As individuals see content that promotes marijuana and its potential benefits, the rate of potential use increases.

Normalization of Marijuana

Seeing positive marijuana content on social media, television, printer ads, and other media platforms can lead to the normalization of marijuana. Cavazos-Rehg, et al. (2016) posits that marijuana Instagram posts received positive responses, leading to the normalization and promotion of the substance. Since individuals use Instagram daily, their exposure to positive marijuana content is high. They may see friends, acquaintances, and role models use the substance; leading them to perceive marijuana use as a normal activity.

Individuals may begin to perceive marijuana as similar to alcohol and cigarettes. For this reason, data regarding these substances are also relevant to the topic of marijuana use. In Huang et al. (2014), the study found that looking at pictures of friends consuming cigarettes and alcohol increases the potential use of the products. The study also found adolescents without friends who consume cigarettes and alcohol possess higher risks of product consumption. 

Role Model Influence

A similar example to the imitation concept from Social Learning Theory is the influence of Lady Gaga on her fans. Click et al. (2015) conducted a study that analyzed the relationship between Lady Gaga, her fans, and her message against bullying and sexual identity. The study learned that the fans were supportive of the message since they see Lady Gaga as an influencer. However, the authors noted that the fans may not really care about the issue and only supported the message because of Lady Gaga’s celebrity status. Relating this to media and marijuana use, pro-marijuana advocates who are also famous individuals may garner the support of their fans. This can also be the case for famous anti-marijuana advocates. This implies that an individual’s attitude towards marijuana use may be dependent on their role models.

Disapproval Towards Use

While most of the studies refer to the increased usage of marijuana and its normalization, certain factors can lead to a different response. Most of the studies that this essay discussed earlier utilized Twitter and Instagram as the media platforms. However, in Morgan et al. (2010), the researchers utilized Facebook and MySpace as the media platform of choice. The study learned that 78% of the users disapproved of marijuana-related content that they see online. The respondents argued that the content can have negative effects if a family member or an employer sees it. Additionally, it is important to note that this study was in 2010 . Marijuana perception and state-specific legality have changed since then. Still, the study showcased how certain individuals associate marijuana content with negative risks to their personal and professional life.


Media platforms act as an effective medium to spread marijuana-related content. Media users, especially on social media, have an increased exposure to this type of content causing a direct effect on their attitudes towards the substance. The abundance of marijuana-related content has led to increased substance use and the normalization of marijuana. Additionally, since users tend to follow their role models online, they can also imitate celebrity behaviors toward marijuana use. As marijuana continues to become legal in various U.S. states, more marijuana-related content will be available online, potentially leading to the continued effects of media use on marijuana use.

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Aubut, T. (2018). Exploring the Association Between How Social Media Affects Attitudes Toward Marijuana Legalization. Sociology & Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University. Available at DOI: 10.25777/9ba8-n577. Accessed July 3, 2022.

Cavazos-Rehg, P., Krauss, M., Sowles, S., & Bierut, L. (2016). Marijuana-Related Posts on Instagram. Prevention Science 17(6):710–20.

Click, M., Lee, H., & Holladay, H. (2015). ‘You’re Born to Be Brave’: Lady Gaga’s Use of Social Media to Inspire Fans’ Political Awareness. International Journal of Cultural Studies 20(6):603–19.

Huang, G., Unger, J., Soto, D., Fujimoto, K., Petnz, M., Jordan-Marsh, M., & Valente, T. (2014). Peer Influences: The Impact of Online and Offline Friendship Networks on Adolescent Smoking and Alcohol Use. Journal of Adolescent Health 54(5):508–14

Kim, Y., Vera, L., Huang, J., & Emery, S. (2022). Marijuana Content on Digital Media and Marijuana Use Among Young People in the United States. Available at . Accessed July 3, 2022.

Moreno, M., Gower, A., Jenkins, M., Kerr, B., & Gritton, J. (2018). Marijuana Promotions on Social Media: Adolescents’ Views on Prevention Strategies. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, vol. 13(1). Available at Accessed July 3, 2022.

Morgan, E., Snelson, C., & Elison-Bowers, P. (2010). Image and video disclosure of substance use on social media websites. Computers in Human Behavior 26(6):1405–11.

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