A lot of the dope you read online about the benefits of marijiuana is just hooey, but it can influence attitudes and actions, researchers say.
Looking at tens of thousands of pot-related posts on Twitter, researchers saw a lot of bogus health claims that they fear may drown out solid science.
"These misleading messages are pervasive online," said researcher Jon-Patrick Allem, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. "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."
Online posts claim cannabis can help with many health issues, including cancer, plantar fasciitis and Crohn's disease, among others.
Cannabis is approved for medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation in conditions like HIV/AIDS that cause weight loss. It's also approved for two types of pediatric epilepsy.
Allem's concern is that the bogus online posts will influence real-life attitudes and behaviors.
For the study, his team collected cannabis-related tweets between May and December of 2018. Most made false claims about the benefits of pot. Researchers used a tool called a Botometer to gauge whether posts came from users or from automated software called bots.
"What we found was that the proportion of bot posts that talked about health claims was larger than the proportion among non-bot accounts," study co-author Patricia Escobedo, a doctoral student at USC, said in a university news release.
Moreover, researchers found no reference to scientifically proven uses for pot, she said.
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."
The findings were published in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Learn more about medical marijuana from Harvard Medical School.