HealthDay News — The scale of the online marketplace for marijuana increased from 2005 to 2017, according to a study published online March 22 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Theodore L. Caputi, from the University College Cork in Ireland, and colleagues examined the scale and growth trajectory of the online marketplace for marijuana by analyzing aggregate internet searches and the links searchers typically found. Data obtained from Google were used to examine the fraction of U.S. Google searches including the terms marijuana, weed, pot, or cannabis from January 2005 through June 2017. The subset of shopping searches was then monitored. 

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The researchers observed a 98% increase in marijuana searches as a proportion of all searches from 2005 through June 2017. Over the same period, the subset of marijuana searches indicative of shopping increased 199%: During June 2017 there were 1.4 to 2.4 million marijuana shopping searches. The highest marijuana shopping searches were in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Nevada. In 42 of 44 studied locations, the compounding annual growth rate for marijuana shopping searches since 2005 was significantly positive. Overall, 41% of the shopping search results linked to retailers offering mail-order marijuana, and 50% of the first page results were occupied by retailers.

“If only a fraction of the millions of searches and thousands of retailers are legitimate, this online marketplace poses a number of potential public health consequences,” the authors write.

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