Just when it seems that the acceptance and normalization of marijuana use is on the rise, we take another small step backward. Twitter has partnered with a federal drug agency to promote substance misuse treatment resources – but they are targeting those searching for marijuana or related keywords.
Twitter Suggests Users Searching For “Marijuana” Have A Substance Abuse Problem
Collaborating with SAMHSA, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Twitter has begun adding a notification that shows above certain tweets deemed relevant to specific drug terms. A search for marijuana may now provide you with a “help is available” notification, suggesting that “if you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse” they should contact the SAMHSA hotline number or website.
Matt Sutton, director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment:
It is not surprising that SAMHSA would be behind stigmatizing content like this, but it is surprising that a platform like Twitter would allow them to co-opt entire search terms, regardless of a person’s reason for searching for them. It goes back to the same false dichotomy that people who use drugs are struggling and need help verses the reality that most people can use drugs non-problematically, while a small portion of the population tends to struggle with substance use disorder.
The issue is not necessarily that they offer the information but that the message pushes out-of-date stereotypes when it comes to drug use. This suggests that marijuana consumers may have problems with other drugs – and we know now that marijuana is not a gateway drug and most who use cannabis do not go on to use other substances. It also doesn’t seem to consider that many searching for marijuana may be medical marijuana patients looking for important and necessary information.
Other Substances Don’t Trigger Same Alert
Most insulting to those who rely on cannabis as a medicine is the fact that similar substance abuse concerns are not displayed when you search for alcohol. According to Marijuana Moment, a search for “vodka” will turn up advertisements and the Twitter accounts for brands like Smirnoff and Absolut. The lack of a warning was not exclusive to the “vodka” search either. Similar searches for keywords like “beer” or “wine” do not trigger the substance abuse notification.
As Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment:
If Twitter is going to add this feature for marijuana then they should absolutely do the same for alcohol, which is a more dangerous substance.
Considering the number of alcohol-related deaths each year, one might think that it would warrant the SAMHSA substance abuse warning. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates roughly 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes every year in the U.S. alone.
Alcohol isn’t the only more dangerous substance that doesn’t trigger the SAMHSA warning, either. Searches for “LSD”, “MDMA”, and “psilocybin” do not prompt the notification, even though they are all more dangerous than marijuana. Also interesting is the fact that a search specifically for “cannabis” will not trigger the warning.