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Study Analyzes Influencer Effect on Cannabis, Shows Women Influencers Drive Market



Social media is a dominant force in society, and in turn, it affects the enforcement of certain social and political standpoints, both on a national and global scale. Now, a new paper published in the journal Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal is digging deeper to look at the effects social media has had on cannabis marketing, finding that the cannabis legalization movement has “drastically changed” the social media landscape around cannabis marketing.

Notably, the paper argues that the legal and technological shifts in cannabis marketing has a gendered impact, which the authors say “research so far has ignored.” While anonymous profiles run by men have generally been associated with illicit markets online, there’s been a shift as more states in the U.S. continue legalizing cannabis.

Researchers found that women are now becoming the key cannabis influencers, looking at cannabis through a lifestyle-drive lens over what will necessarily get consumers the most stoned.

The study compared profiles of 60 Swiss sellers deemed to be illicit to 70 “cannabis influencer” profiles from the U.S., reviewing and analyzing the visual and text-based differences in the posts.

The researchers said, “Our findings show that cannabis influencers on Instagram are changing the stereotypical characteristics of illegal cannabis culture as being almost entirely dominated by men, to one where cannabis is represented as a desirable accessory in certain feminine lifestyles.”

They add that influencers’ role in transforming cannabis culture to become more mainstream and acceptable for women have the potential to affect the global cannabis culture, along with ongoing cannabis legalization debates. The researchers also note that social media sites like Instagram allow cannabis influencers to spread their own messages about cannabis as an “accepted consumption product,” potentially to millions of online users from a number of backgrounds and representing diverse ages, genders and nationalities.

Of course, marketing for cannabis still has a number of challenges, as the plant is still not federally legal in the U.S. For social networks like Instagram, companies are cautious about the way they market their products online, even if products are being promoted to consumers in adult-use cannabis states, with fears of being indirectly involved in illegal commerce.

A number of platforms and brands have made noise about Instagram’s rules in the past, facing profile deletions over community guidelines violations, which some have called arbitrary depending on what kind of ties and money specific accounts may have to combat the bans.

Cannabis influencers, however, have adapted, often including disclaimers explaining that nothing in their post is for sale; they are just showing viewers how they use those products in their everyday lives, more of an educational focus.

Researchers said that, when cannabis is marketed by legal influencers instead of illegal dealers, they noticed a shift in the use of symbols related to “amateurism versus professionalism, intimacy and lifestyle.” They also argue that these changes are connected to how influencers cater to gender over illegal sellers.

“In opposition to cannabis dealers, influencers are predominantly women, who tie their use of cannabis to authentic, yet calibrated displays of their lifestyle through the use of visually attractive images.”

It’s no surprise, given these discussions, that the researchers observed the most apparent characteristic of cannabis influencer profiles on Instagram was that profiles were held by women and women-identifying users. Those users were more concerned with the person using the product over the product itself.

The study says that influencers allow viewers to “imagine how they themselves could use cannabis products in various social and personal situations.”

With that, the researchers also see a shift from cannabis as associated with hippies and stoners to include other conversations, including motherhood, health and exercising, city living and more mainstream values.

The study also stands firm alongside other recent findings looking at cannabis consumer trends as a whole, namely data from Headset that found Gen Z women consumers are growing faster than any other cohort, at 151%, in 2020.