Nav: Home

Social bots tweet dodgy claims about pot, diluting solid science

December 19, 2019

A USC analysis of tens of thousands of cannabis-related posts on Twitter found that social bots regularly perpetuated bogus health claims on the platform, illustrating how false statements may drown out solid science on social media.

The study appears today in the American Journal of Public Health.

"We're in a period of time where these misleading messages are pervasive online," said Jon-Patrick Allem, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and lead author of the study. "We want the public to be aware of the difference between a demonstrated, scientifically-backed piece of health information and claims that are simply made up."

Posts from social bots suggested that cannabis could help with an array of health problems including cancer, plantar fasciitis and Crohn's disease, among others.

Currently, cannabis is only approved for medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a small number of instances, including to help with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, with appetite stimulation in conditions like AIDS or HIV that cause weight loss, and with management of two forms of pediatric epilepsy.

The worry is that all the online chatter about cannabis' beneficial qualities will have offline consequences, ultimately influencing attitudes and behaviors, Allem said.

For the study, the research team sampled cannabis-related tweets posted each week between May 2018 and December 2018. Next, they sorted tweets generated by social bots versus those from non-bot accounts using a research tool called Botometer that analyzes the characteristics of a Twitter account and gives it a score based on how likely the account is to be a bot.

They then coded the tweets into 12 categories, including mentions of first-time use, health and medical, legality, processed products such as edibles and using cannabis in conjunction with alcohol, painkillers and psychedelics.

"What we found was that the proportion of bot posts that talked about health claims was larger than the proportion among non-bot accounts," said Patricia Escobedo, doctoral student and co-author of the study. Escobedo added that they did not find one reference to scientifically proven uses for cannabis, such as drugs for treating epilepsy in children, in their data.

"Raising the issue of these false claims by social bots is an important first step in our line of research," Allem said. "The next step will be to examine the self-reported levels of exposure and beliefs in these claims and perceived risks and benefits of cannabis use, intentions to use and actual use."
In addition to Allem and Escobedo, the study authors include Likhit Dharmapuri of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Department of Computer Science.

The work supported by funds from the Tobacco-Related Diseases Research Program (grant 28KT-0003), which is administered by the University of California.

University of Southern California

Related Cannabis Articles:

Pregnant women with depression are more than 3 times more likely to use cannabis
Cannabis use is much more common among pregnant women with depression and pregnant women with depression are more than 3 times more likely to use cannabis than those without depression.
Cannabis compound acts as an antibiotic 
Public health agencies worldwide have identified antibiotic resistance of disease-causing bacteria as one of humanity's most critical challenges.
Cannabis use during pregnancy
The large health care system Kaiser Permanente Northern California provides universal screening for prenatal cannabis use in women during pregnancy by self-report and urine toxicology testing.
Questions and answers about cannabis use during pregnancy
A new study shows that women have many medical questions about the use of cannabis both before and during pregnancy, and during the postpartum period while breastfeeding.
Managing cannabis use in breastfeeding women
As more states legalize medicinal and recreational cannabis use and increasingly decriminalize cannabis, the risk to the growth and development of breastfeeding infants whose mothers use cannabis becomes a growing public health concern.
Cannabis edibles present novel health risks
With the recent legalization of cannabis edibles in Canada, physicians and the public must be aware of the novel risks of cannabis edibles, argue authors in a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Compliance with ID rules in recreational cannabis stores
A new study finds that recreational cannabis stores in Colorado and Washington state, both of which legalized adult recreational use in 2012, show high levels of compliance with rules preventing underage purchase of cannabis.
Study reveals increased cannabis use in individuals with depression
New findings published in Addiction reveal the prevalence of cannabis, or marijuana, use in the United States increased from 2005 to 2017 among persons with and without depression and was approximately twice as common among those with depression in 2017.
Cannabis reduces headache and migraine pain by nearly half
Inhaled cannabis reduces self-reported headache severity by 47.3% and migraine severity by 49.6%, according to a recent study by Washington State University researchers published in the Journal of Pain.
Cannabis found not to be a substitute for opioids
The research team looked at all research on the effects of cannabis use on illicit opioid use during methadone maintenance therapy, which is a common treatment for opioid use disorder, and found six studies involving more than 3,600 participants.
More Cannabis News and Cannabis Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at