Developing a Research Project and Creative Tool to Explore Peer Perceptions of Cannabis Use.

How can you reduce barriers to participation in research about an illegal activity? This Ideas Exchange sought to develop a project to creatively explore the impact that presentation and perception of cannabis use has on individual attitudes towards drug use.

Cannabis use is a public health concern; frequent adolescent cannabis use can have negative impacts on mental health, academic achievement, and wellbeing across the life course. In the Avon Longitudinal Study of Children and Families, by the age of 25, 60% of individuals report ever using cannabis. Changing cannabis policy, with legal sales introduced in Canada and several U.S states, brings new complexities for the 21st century. We are seeing unprecedented change in the ways in which the drug is presented and perceived. Companies selling cannabis legally in the U.S. are now introducing marketing to a product that was previously illegal. With the debate around medical marijuana, there is a shift to representation of cannabis as beneficial to health. Additionally, legal status removes taboos associated with use of the drug. In the U.S., there has been an observed rise in prevalence of cannabis use; it is unknown whether this is due to an influx of new cannabis consumers, or due to people who already used cannabis feeling more comfortable discussing their use. In an increasingly connected, globalised world, we cannot expect such large change in one country to be isolated to the populations the policy directly affects. Social media allows these changes overseas to directly reach individuals in the UK.

What did the project involve? 

Prior to this funding, the research team identified  barriers to participation in research on drug use, including difficulty engaging groups and addressing concerns around privacy when discussing illegal activity. These barriers mean little is known about how perceptions of cannabis, and perceptions of peer use, influence individual attitudes towards cannabis use. This project sought to use the Ideas Exchange funding to refine a series of research hypothesis around this topic and to design a primary data collection tool that used creative methods to engage participants in research and overcome barriers.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Lindsey Hines  (Centre for Academic Mental Health, University of Bristol) researches factors that influence adolescent cannabis use, and the life course relationship between cannabis use and mental health.
  • Olivia Maynard (School of Psychological Science, University of Bristol) has expertise in healthy behaviour change in relation to tobacco, alcohol and other drug use and the effects of health messaging on behaviour.
  • Malcolm Hamilton (Mufti Games) is an expert in games and creative play, with a background in acting and a personal interest in mental health. He has produced a variety of innovative engagement and behaviour change tools for research in the fields of wellbeing and environment, using play and creativity to engage and connect the public.

What were the results?

This funding was used develop a clear plan for a future research project on perception of cannabis use, with a suitable and novel data collection tool designed and ready to be produced.

Within their ideas exchange funding the team:

  • Refined a series of research hypotheses and decide on required data collection measures.
  • Through focus-group with members of the public,  discussed barriers to participation in research in relation to drug use, and methods of overcoming these through play and design.
  • Developed “The Hot Box” a portable, unmanned space which individual participants can enter to physically complete tasks, experiments and interactive games in privacy. The hot box is designed as a curious object that will encourage hard-to-reach groups to engage with research.
  • The team also developed new links with academics who work in this field of social media. This funding provided the opportunity to incorporate researchers in the field of social media into discussions regarding the impact of peer perception on drug use, allowing the team to explore ways to incorporate digital research into future bids.