UT researcher hopes to aid those with Cannabis Use Disorder

Michael Mason, a researcher in UTK’s College of Social Work, is launching a study next spring with the goal of helping young adults aged 18 to 25 with cannabis use disorder (CUD) limit or stop usage.

Michael Mason, a researcher at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Social Work, is launching a study next spring with the goal of helping young adults with Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) limit or stop usage.

It includes two subject fields: Tennessee and Colorado, an illegal usage state and a recreationally legal usage state.

The research targets young adults aged 18 to 25 who struggle with over-use. There is a range of CUD indicators from cravings, to problems in social life, to withdrawal symptoms. Qualification for the study is contingent on usage.

There are two rounds of screenings and questionnaires to establish a CUD diagnosis. Those diagnosed then can be implemented into the study upon meeting all criteria.

It’s a six-month program that will place active participants into one of two randomized groups.

The first group will receive counseling for the first four weeks and then be surveyed for the remaining five months. The second group will be surveyed for five months and be counseled for the last four weeks. The second group is the waitlist control group.

Surveys will include questionnaires and urine analysis on four separate counts. The first survey will be done at the beginning, the second a month into the study, the third at three months and the final one at the end of the six-month span.

The longer a participant stays in the study, the better it is for everyone: the researcher and the researched.

To assist in fortifying this, researchers will be offering concessions, such as Amazon gift cards, that will increase in value as the study progresses.

A different way to counsel

The counseling is a text-delivered, personalized, automated system sending up to eight messages every other day for four weeks. These messages will include questions inquiring about cannabis craving, stress levels, whether or not they have smoked that day and the best and worst thing about smoking.

The automated messaging system works as a loop. The test subject responds to texts and then receives feedback from the system based on their responses. It operates as a non-judgmental support system tailored specifically to each of its subjects.

“You gotta find the sweet spot. You don’t want to overload them,” Mason said.

Mason and his team of researchers have spent a lot of time getting feedback from young adults to ensure that the text system will be smooth, relevant and not annoying to participants.

They tested a similar messaging system program for one week several years ago and a pilot study with 130 young adults last year. Both studies showed positive results. Participants liked the system and had reduced substance overuse symptoms like memory problems.

“The Weed Study”

The pilot study also tested the waters for how to campaign for participants. They were able to gather test subjects in six weeks with their media methods.

Flyers went up in the most-visited parts of campus and had tear-off tabs with contact information. There was also a table on the pedestrian walkway with a sign that read “The Weed Study.”

Advertisements ran on the campus radio and local news stations as well.

Mason didn’t specify when recruiting would start next spring, but he hopes to have an influx of media coverage when the time comes.

Funding from The National Institutes of Health and National Institutes of Drug Abuse pushes the start date to fall in April 2020.

However, this is when students will have finals and will be finishing the semester. Mason may push the start back to summertime with a soft launch to figure out the best way to operate, and then deep dive into it in August when school is starting back.

“I think this will be a great opportunity for those students who would like to reduce their use, and the text-based counseling program is easy for students to use,” Colorado State University Principal Investigator Doug Coatsworth said.

CSU will be paralleling its research with UT. Coatsworth and Mason will be traveling back and forth from Colorado and Tennessee to correlate their research and compare results.

Both Mason and Coatsworth are confident that students and other young adults will be excited to participate in this first-of-its-kind study.

“We want this study to give us evidence and confidence that it really works in different context,” Mason said.

This program implemented into larger systems, whether it be college campuses, healthcare institutions or both is the vision. The first step is solidifying their scientific evidence through this study.

Featured image by aeroSoul, courtesy of Creative Commons

Edited by Maddie Torres and Ciera Noe