Pot and Pop: New Research Finds Stronger Link Between Music and Marijuana Use Among Teens

Issue Date: 
January 11, 2010

Teens who frequently listen to music that contains references to marijuana are more likely to use the drug than their counterparts with less exposure to such lyrics, according to a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study in the journal Addiction.

“Based on an analysis of survey data from 959 ninth graders, we found that students who listen to music with the most references to marijuana are almost twice as likely to have used the drug than their peers whose musical tastes favor songs less focused on substance use, even after controlling for confounding factors,” said Brian Primack, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics in Pitt’s School of Medicine.

“Interestingly, we also found that exposure to marijuana in music was not associated with other high-risk behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption. This suggests that there is a real link between the marijuana lyrics and marijuana use,” Primack said.

To accurately estimate marijuana exposure in music, researchers used an improved process to calculate the exposure, incorporating student-reported exposure to music as well as favorite artists in addition to an intensive content analysis of the top 794 songs from 2005, 2006, and 2007, based on Billboard magazine’s year-end charts.

Researchers estimated that the average study participant listened to 21.8 hours of music per week and was exposed to an estimated 40 marijuana references per day in the music he or she heard. Twelve percent of the participants identified themselves as current marijuana users, with 32 percent identifying themselves as having previously tried the substance. Compared to those citing a favorite artist who had recorded no songs containing references to  cannabis, students  identifying a favorite artist who had recorded three or more songs  containing cannabis references had nearly double the odds of currently using  cannabis.

Researchers controlled for such demographic variables as age, race, gender, parental education, and school grades in analyzing the data.

“Although it may be that heavy exposure to music about marijuana causes marijuana smoking, it may also be that those who smoke marijuana seek out music with lyrics related to marijuana,” Primack noted. “In either case, these results may help us develop more effective programs on drug education. For example, media literacy programs may help young people more accurately analyze and evaluate the marijuana-related messages they are likely to hear in popular music.”

Primack’s research is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Maurice Falk Foundation.