When you shelled out the cash for your teen's new computer, you'd probably hoped that homework would be the machine's main use. But some teens may be turning to the Internet for more than just math help. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, say that websites providing drug information may influence teens' attitudes and behaviors toward these dangerous substances.
Researchers interviewed 12 13- to 25-year-olds who'd been admitted to the emergency department or a substance abuse program in two Massachusetts hospitals. All of the teens were first-time drug users and said they'd used the Internet to gain information about psychoactive substances. Teens also answered questions about how often they used the Internet, the types of information they obtained online, the drugs they researched online, how the information they found affected or changed their drug-use behaviors, the websites they used to access drug information, and the accuracy of the online information they found.
All of the teens said that the information they'd gotten from the Internet affected how they'd used drugs. Other findings from the study include:
- Teens used the Internet to find information on a wide variety of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, including dextromethorphan, marijuana, GHB, mushrooms, Percocet, heroin, and methamphetamine.
- After visiting drug sites, eight of the 12 teens said they'd tried to minimize the risks associated with drug use. They tried practices like using drugs they thought were safe, smoking drugs through filters, or seeking less contaminated forms of drugs.
- The teens in the study visited sites such as drug encyclopedias, mainstream medical websites, and government antidrug sites. Most of the teens preferred to use the information from drug encyclopedias, especially Erowid (http://www.erowid.com).
What This Means to You: Only a few teens participated in this study of the Internet and drug use, but these initial findings indicate that teens at risk for drug use are likely to seek online sources of information. Teens may not be able to tell which Internet drug information is valuable and accurate, so don't let the Internet replace your role as a parent. If your child has questions about the risks of drugs, go online together - preferably to reputable medical and antidrug sites - and discuss the information you find together. Talk to your child's doctor if you suspect your child may be using tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, or if you need more information about the risks of drug use in teens.
Source: Edward W. Boyer, MD, PhD; Michael Shannon, MD, MPH; Patricia L. Hibberd, MD, PhD; Pediatrics, February 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2005