A smartphone app that could help decrease marijuana use?

Photo of jogger looking at smartphone.

UB gets grant to develop app to help reduce marijuana intake through exercise

Release Date: July 26, 2013

“The use of an app will help us to provide young adults with easy access to helpful information, in real-time, as they go about their day-to-day lives. It’s a natural fit. ”
R. Lorraine Collins, PhD, Associate dean for research and professor
Department of Community Health and Health Behavior
Collins on S. Campus.

Professor Collins on UB's South Campus

BUFFALO, N.Y. – For young adults, marijuana use is so popular that annual use rates are on par with, or higher than, annual rates for smoking cigarettes. And contrary to popular belief, heavy use of marijuana is associated with dependence.

While there are few effective interventions to help marijuana users reduce intake, research suggests that exercise or physical activity could help reduce young adult substance use. However, physical activity has yet to be tested specifically on marijuana consumption.

The University at Buffalo has been awarded a National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) grant for $715,500 to develop and study a smartphone app that promotes exercise as a positive alternative to marijuana use. As part of the study, researchers will also test the feasibility and review the effects of a four-week intervention for the individuals being studied that includes personalized feedback about marijuana use and participation in four in-person counseling sessions focused on decreasing marijuana intake.

The grant will run from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2015.

The primary investigator on the grant, R. Lorraine Collins, PhD, associate dean for research and professor in the UB Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, says that since young adults are very comfortable with technology and interact with their smart phones multiple times a day, an app to promote exercise made sense.

“The use of an app will help us to provide young adults with easy access to helpful information, in real-time, as they go about their day-to-day lives,” says Collins. “It’s a natural fit.”

The idea of using an app is the result of several other studies Collins has conducted.

Collins has devoted her career to studying the cognitive and behavioral approaches to the understanding and treatment of addictive behaviors, common patterns among addictive behaviors and the psychosocial issues that accompany substance use and addiction, such as gender and socio-economic status.

However, her research has mostly focused on alcohol use. Collins says she has more recently become interested in marijuana consumption, which is growing in popularity.

“My initial interest in marijuana use was raised by the results of one of my studies of heavy drinkers, which indicated that almost half of the sample of over 600 young-adult drinkers also reported regular use of marijuana,” says Collins. “I was intrigued by this finding and decided to explore the relationship between alcohol and marijuana use in young adults who regularly use both substances.”

In that study, she says, the substance-using participants used cell phones and interactive voice response (IVR) technology to provide three weeks of real-time, self-report data on their mood, alcohol and marijuana use, motives and social context.

Collins is also the primary investigator on another NIDA-funded grant on the relationship between physical activity and marijuana use among young adults.

“This newest NIDA grant to develop the smart phone app has evolved out of our use of cell phones to collect data in real time, as well as our plan to develop an effective intervention that can make a difference in the lives of young people who want to cut down on their marijuana use,” says Collins.

Methods for cutting down on marijuana use may become even more important since a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that among 18- to 25-year-olds, 51.1 percent reported lifetime use, 29.8 percent reported past year use and 18.5 percent reported past month use.

In terms of the next step in this research, Collins says that follow up will depend on the outcome of this initial test of the intervention.

“If the intervention is successful, we hope to develop and run a larger, more complex study, which will allow us to generalize our findings to the larger population of young-adult marijuana users,” says Collins.

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