University at Buffalo Receives Grant to Develop App Aimed at Reducing Marijuana Use

Lorraine Collins, Professor, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior

Published August 9, 2013

The University at Buffalo SUNY School of Public Health and Health Professions has been awarded a $715,500 grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop and study a smartphone app that promotes exercise as a positive alternative to marijuana use. Researchers also will test the feasibility and review the effects of a four-week intervention for the study participants that includes personalized feedback about marijuana use and participation in four in-person counseling sessions focused on decreasing marijuana intake. Dr. R. Lorraine Collins, associate dean for research and professor in the department of community health and health behavior, is the primary investigator on the study, which runs from July 2013 to June 2015.

For young adults, marijuana use is so popular that annual use rates are on par with, or higher than, annual rates for smoking cigarettes. 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. According to Dr. Collins, an app to promote exercise makes sense because young adults are very comfortable with technology and interact with their smartphones multiple times a day. “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,” she said. “It’s a natural fit.”

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

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, Dr. Collins said 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,” she said.