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MIDAS Data Science Fellow Elyse Thulin Awarded Best Poster by a Trainee at the UCSF Promoting Research in Social Media and Health Symposium 

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Elyse Thulin

At the 2022 UCSF Promoting Research in Social Media and Health Symposium, Elyse Thulin, a Postdoctoral Fellow at MIDAS and at the Addiction Center in the department of Psychiatry at Michigan Medicine, was awarded Best Poster by a Trainee.

Using traditional epidemiologic, mixed qualitative and quantitative, and computational machine learning methods, Elyse’s broad program of research focuses on how people use online and virtual spaces to interact in ways that both hinder and support wellbeing, mental health, and changes in substance use behaviors. More specifically, Elyse’s areas of research include cyber dating violence, online substance use recovery support groups, and online support groups for traumatic change/loss. Computational skills greatly enhance her work as it enables her to scrape data from online sources, utilize natural language processing to identify top terms, themes, and sentiment from text, and efficiently expand traditional qualitative methods to efficiently code thousands of posts. Elyse’s long term goal is to become a faculty member who teaches, mentors students, and conducts research around expanded applications of computational social science for health and wellbeing.

Online public support group for recovery from problematic cannabis use: trends of use and topics of discussion Elyse J. Thulin, PhD, Anne Fernandez, PhD, Erin Bonar, PhD, Maureen Walton, PhD

Download a PDF version of the poster here.

Elyse provided the following statement about her research:

“Over the past two decades, there have been significant increases in cannabis consumption in the U.S., tied to greater state legalization of recreational (21 states) and medical (37 states) cannabis use, new routes of administration (e.g., vaping, dabbing, edibles), and increased potency of THC. This is worrying given increases in emergency-room injuries related to cannabis use and the increased prevalence of cannabis use disorders (CUD). Despite increased risk of injury related to cannabis and growing prevalence of cannabis use disorder, admission rates for clinical treatment are down, and more than 85% of who would qualify as having CUD do not receive clinical forms of treatment. In contrast, in recent years there has been an uptick in the use of online nonclinical services for those looking to change their cannabis use behaviors. Despite this uptick, very little is known at this time about the functionality, content and interactions occurring within non-clinical, online spaces. In this poster presentation, I aimed to begin to fill this gap by identifying the major themes of conversation, contextualizing information of those themes, and overlap in the present themes with 4 domains of recovery proposed by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in a publicly available online community of individuals who are aiming to cease using cannabis.

I used a data-driven approach to inform the methods of this study. I scraped data from 10 years from a popular Reddit forum on cannabis cessation. I then evaluated the growth of the community across the 10 year period. I next used pre-processing NLP methods (e.g., case uniformity, stemming, etc.) to ready the data for analysis, then identified the top words and terms present in posts. Finally, I extracted a subset of posts to analyze by hand using qualitative methods, to determine the context around top words and phrases. The growth of the community and top words can be found on the poster. Most importantly, we found five major themes in the present study present in posts to the online cannabis cessation community: 1.) individual identify & cannabis use; consequences of cannabis use; reasons for change; cessation strategies; and consequences of change. While examples within these five themes overlapped with the three SAMHSA domains of health, community and purpose, the domain of home was less common and may be less pertinent to this community. Simultaneously, many posts referenced individual identity and cannabis use in posts. Examples were “I smoked daily for ten years” and “I took my first tok at 14, and by 16 I was using in the morning, afternoon and night”. In the context of a common (but incorrect) public narrative that cannabis is not harmful or addictive, individuals in this community may find it important to share the frequency or longevity of their experiences to help emphasize the significant role that cannabis had in their day to day lives. It may be that increased public awareness of that cannabis can be addictive and harmful, particularly when use begins in adolescence or early adulthood or is heavy and frequent, would create greater opportunities for individuals who have experienced dependence or are wanting to change their cannabis use behaviors.”