Colorado State University researchers are recruiting additional participants for a study launched in 2019 on text-based counseling for young adults with marijuana use problems.
In August 2019, researchers from CSU and the University of Tennessee Knoxville received a $3.2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to test a text-delivered counseling program for young adults ages 18 to 25 who have cannabis use disorder.
This first-of-its-kind study, called the Weed Study, is examining the role of legalization of marijuana on treatment outcomes as well as cost effectiveness and educational outcomes. Recreational marijuana use is legal in Colorado, but not in Tennessee.
There are three lead researchers involved: Nathaniel Riggs, a professor of CSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies and Director of the Prevention Research Center; Doug Coatsworth, the Betsey R. Bush Endowed Professor in Behavioral Health and Associate Dean of Research at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Michael Mason, the Betsey R. Bush Endowed Professor of Children and Families at Risk in the UT College of Social Work’s Center for Behavioral Health Research.
Riggs, Coatsworth, and Mason saw this as a unique opportunity to test this novel intervention in two distinct settings; one in which cannabis has been legalized and another where it has not.
About cannabis use disorder
Cannabis use disorder (CUD) is a diagnosis given for problematic marijuana use. Approximately 1.8 million young adults aged 18 to 25 had a cannabis use disorder in the past year.
“Young adults in the United States have the highest rate of cannabis use disorder compared to other age groups and are the least likely to seek traditional treatment,” Mason said.
“Unfortunately, engaging young adults in treatment for CUD is very challenging,” he added. “Creative approaches such as integrating mobile technology with evidence-based treatments are needed. Text-delivered treatments increase access and privacy, which can lessen treatment stigmatization.”
Among the symptoms associated with CUD are taking more cannabis than was intended; difficulty controlling or cutting down on use; craving cannabis; problems at work, school, or home as a result of cannabis use; giving up or reducing other activities in favor of cannabis; taking cannabis in high-risk situations; continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems; tolerance to cannabis; and withdrawal when discontinuing cannabis.
Aubrie Radford is the project manager for the CSU Weed Study site.
“This study is geared for individuals who have high levels of use, feel like the extent of their use is negatively impacting their lives, and want to reduce it,” Radford said.
Originally, Mason developed and tested a brief in-person intervention called Peer Network Counseling. PNC is based on behavioral principles that have strong evidence for effectiveness but uniquely focuses on participants’ close peer group to decrease risk behaviors and increase protective behavioral strategies. Mason then developed and tested PNC-txt — an automated personalized text-delivered version of PNC — with adolescents to reduce tobacco use and with young adults to reduce hazardous alcohol use and found promising results. Mason is now focusing on cannabis use among young adults.
In this study, participants complete a survey at the beginning of their treatment, and the information is used to individually tailor the four-week intervention. Up to eight personalized interactive texts are sent to participants every other day for a month, and participants can access additional booster messages at any time. PNC-txt raises awareness of close peers, the places where participants spend their time, and how peers and places can produce protective or risk-enhancing behaviors.
“The rate of cannabis use among Colorado’s college-age youth is among the highest of any state in the U.S.,” Coatsworth said. “We want to know if providing PNC-txt might reach some users who would not use other resources and if this approach can be effective.”
Study changes due to COVID-19
The Weed Study was supposed to launch in July 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many study procedures had to be adapted.
Originally, the study team planned to meet interested individuals in person to explain the study and help with enrollment and the first survey. Due to COVID safety concerns, the study was moved to a completely virtual format.
Since the Weed Study is about a mobile health intervention, the researchers and study team felt these protocols better reflected the rationale behind their work. As an entirely virtual study, participants can truly complete research activities from anywhere and don’t have to live locally to participate (they still need to be Colorado or Tennessee residents). The study team created informational videos, developed a system that allows participants to schedule Zoom meetings with the team, and integrated regularly monitored contact options (e.g. texting “4help” to hear from staff member, direct contact information of study staff, etc.) to ensure participants still felt connected to the study and were able to receive the assistance they needed in a virtual environment.
The Weed Study started recruitment in November 2020 and plans to recruit participants for two and a half years. The study team is looking for 1,000 participants who are 18-25, live in Colorado or Tennessee, and are experiencing problematic cannabis use (which is determined by the study). Interested individuals should visit weedstudy.org to learn more about the study and complete a screener to see if they are initially eligible. For more information, reach out to CSU’s Weed Study via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling or texting 970-430-6277.
The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.