KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A new $3.2 million study will test a new counseling strategy on UT students who want to seek help for their marijuana use: text messaging.

The researchers will study people ages 18-25 at two universities: UT and Colorado State University. As recreational marijuana use is illegal in Tennessee but legal in Colorado, the first-of-its-kind study will also focus on the role of legalization on treatment outcomes. 

The two universities received the grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with a high-profile issue in mind: Cannabis use disorder. The disorder is diagnosed in people who have trouble controlling their marijuana use, or whose marijuana use damages their personal life, work life, or physical or mental health.

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Researchers have said young adults may be particularly at risk. According to a UT release, about 1.8 million young adults had a cannabis use disorder in the past year -- the highest rate of any age group.

Lead researcher and UT professor Michael Mason said young adults have a hard time seeking traditional counseling.

Unfortunately, engaging young adults in treatment for CUD is very challenging,” Mason said.

That's where text messaging comes in. Mason said "creative approaches" like text-delivered counseling could do two important things: help more young adults access counseling, and give them some much-needed privacy when they need help.

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Mason has already developed and tested a similar program, which is a text-based intervention to reduce tobacco and alcohol use in teenagers. After the tested treatment delivered promising results, Mason is now focusing on marijuana use. 

The release said 1,000 young adults will participate in the six-month study -- 500 from Tennessee and 500 from Colorado. Recruitment is expected to begin in April 2020.