UB researches an app to cut pot smoking

August 2, 2013 Updated Aug 2, 2013 at 9:36 AM EDT

By Dan Miner, Reporter- Business First

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UB researches an app to cut pot smoking

August 2, 2013 Updated Aug 2, 2013 at 9:36 AM EDT

Stats from almost any analysis are stark: a lot of people smoke marijuana.

More than half of America's 18- to 25-year-old population has tried it at least once, according to a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use, and 20 percent of those smoked it in a one-month survey period.

And while moral, medical and legal debates about marijuana are taking place around the country, one University at Buffalo researcher plans to develop a smartphone app that will help heavy users who want to cut back or quit.

UB has been awarded a $715,500 National Institute of Drug Abuse grant to develop the app, which will promote exercise as a positive alternative to pot use, and also fund a four-week intervention for the individuals being studied.

"One of the things we're trying to understand is whether physical activity is a good alternative to smoking," said R. Lorraine Collins, an associate dean for research and professor in UB's Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. "So if you're bored, maybe it's time to go for a run."

Collins is an expert in addictive behaviors and has focused much of her research on alcohol. She is also the primary investigator on another NIDA-funded grant on the relationship between physical activity and marijuana use among young adults.

Participants in the program will be volunteers, and will be asked to document how much they smoked before and during the study, and the context (such as mood and time of day) in which they smoke. The app will monitor those things and likely encourage participants to other activities.

Following the development of the app and then finding volunteers to use it, researchers will review its effectiveness in a four-week program for participants. They will give feedback on marijuana use and participate in counseling sessions focused on decreasing that use.

Collins said marijuana has harmful effects on the lungs and can also be addictive.

"So if we can help you use less, then you're less likely to experience the negative consequences," she said. "That's really what we're trying to do, is to provide people with a means to stay out of trouble."

The three-year grant runs from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2015.

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