Using Social Media Data to Investigate Public Perceptions of Cannabis as a Medicine: Narrative Review


Background:

The use and acceptance of medicinal cannabis is on the rise across the globe. To support the interests of public health, evidence relating to its use, effects, and safety is required to match this community demand. Web-based user-generated data are often used by researchers and public health organizations for the investigation of consumer perceptions, market forces, population behaviors, and for pharmacoepidemiology.


Objective:

In this review, we aimed to summarize the findings of studies that have used user-generated text as a data source to study medicinal cannabis or the use of cannabis as medicine. Our objectives were to categorize the insights provided by social media research on cannabis as medicine and describe the role of social media for consumers using medicinal cannabis.


Methods:

The inclusion criteria for this review were primary research studies and reviews that reported on the analysis of web-based user-generated content on cannabis as medicine. The MEDLINE, Scopus, Web of Science, and Embase databases were searched from January 1974 to April 2022.


Results:

We examined 42 studies published in English and found that consumers value their ability to exchange experiences on the web and tend to rely on web-based information sources. Cannabis discussions have portrayed the substance as a safe and natural medicine to help with many health conditions including cancer, sleep disorders, chronic pain, opioid use disorders, headaches, asthma, bowel disease, anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. These discussions provide a rich resource for researchers to investigate medicinal cannabis-related consumer sentiment and experiences, including the opportunity to monitor cannabis effects and adverse events, given the anecdotal and often biased nature of the information is properly accounted for.


Conclusions:

The extensive web-based presence of the cannabis industry coupled with the conversational nature of social media discourse results in rich but potentially biased information that is often not well-supported by scientific evidence. This review summarizes what social media is saying about the medicinal use of cannabis and discusses the challenges faced by health governance agencies and professionals to make use of web-based resources to both learn from medicinal cannabis users and provide factual, timely, and reliable evidence-based health information to consumers.


Keywords:

internet; medical marijuana; medicinal cannabis; public health surveillance; social media.

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