Marijuana movies and media: is cannabis being trivialised?

 The way cannabis is sometimes portrayed in popular culture might be causing some confusion.

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After recently attending a university welcome back function and talking to a lot of students, our NCPIC team was left wondering where a lot of young people are getting their marijuana information and education from. With heaps of questions about whether cannabis is legal, misconceptions about side-effects and misunderstandings about long-term consequences, we realised the way cannabis is portrayed in popular culture might be the cause of confusion. And once we thought about marijuana movies and cheesy tabloids catching celebs in the act, the source of the misinformation became clear.

Celebrities smoking weed

Mylie Cyrus and her wrecking ball have skyrocketed to fame over recent years with the likes of teen heart-throbs, One Direction, and currently plummeting, ‘wannabe badboy’ Justin Beiber. What do all of these celebs have in common other than the front pages of English tabloids? They have all been caught at various points with a joint in their mouth, some of them advocating  use of the drug by smoking openly during their concerts – with little or no consequence. Interestingly, when it comes to the likes of Justin Bieber smoking weed, it seemed his antics tossing eggs at houses prompted more of a reaction than his illegal drug use caught on camera!

In the absence of accurate and powerful information that turns heads and captures attention to the same degree as celeb gossip, some young people see celebrities smoking weed and may shape their opinion based on these examples. This can lead to the idea that cannabis is a soft, 'fun' drug and – as celebs often just receive a playful 'tsk tsk' from media when caught – that it either isn't illegal or that the laws around possession aren't to be taken seriously. Even with accurate education, actions can speak louder than words, and these 'badboy PR moves’ can impress the wrong messages upon young people who are confused or unclear about the real consequences of using cannabis – from a legal and health perspective.

The really unfortunate fact for those young people who do take their cues from their tune-touting and big screen idols, is that their misconceptions can be corrected quite quickly. The mellows they might see celebs experiencing may be the opposite to the anxiety, paranoia, and greening out that they may experience instead. Everyone experiences cannabis differently, and the effects can differ for a single person from one instance of use to the next – so while one person's experience may be relaxing, another person's may be frightening and traumatic. Similarly, one person may be able to control their use while another may struggle with marijuana addiction. The irony in this case, is that some of these ‘stoner stars’ do experience problems with weed, but this never gets much publicity until their careers run out of steam and they get snapped heading into rehab.

Away from the personal lives of celebs and focusing more on what they produce, it is also not unusual to see pot use and even dealing or teen drug use trivialised in various top-billing movies, featuring famous stars. Critically acclaimed films from The Beach, through to cult films like ‘Pineapple Express’ and recent comedies like ‘The Millers’, make light of use and even marijuana addiction, while franchises such as 'Harold and Kumar' have made their name from the adventures of two stoned uni students.

In films, cannabis is often promoted as 'fun', with humorous side-effects and few serious negative consequences – driving, physical and mental health risks are forgotten, and marijuana addiction is reduced to a series of laughable scenes. While there are of course exceptions, these kinds of messages again shape what young people know and understand about the drug.

Teenagers and drugs: ensuring our kids take the right cues

While ever there are paparazzi and scriptwriters looking to make a laugh and a buck, there will be media and movies about cannabis that present it as a cool and 'soft’ drug. What's important is that young people have multiple avenues to access information and education about drugs such as cannabis, so they can build an accurate image of how the drug works, what the side effects are and the legal consequences of use.

According to our recent survey, parents see themselves as one of the main sources of drug education and the main disciplinarian for teen drug use. With this in mind, it's important parents arm themselves with the best and most accurate information so they can counteract the more trivialised education their teens may be gaining from various sources, including marijuana movies and media.

Being open and honest, and using instances where their favourite celebrities are caught in the act or cannabis is promoted on screen, can be a good way to ensure open dialogue while in the home. While these movies and stories may not send the right messages, they can be valuable conversation starters and a way of correcting any of the inaccuracies of teenagers portrayed on screen or in celebrity focussed media.

If you are looking for more marijuana information to kick start your own education, check out the links below. For advice on teenagers and drugs – talking to a young person about cannabis and dealing with challenging situations, try our fast facts that deal specifically with this area.

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