End user–informed mobile health intervention development for adolescent cannabis use disorder: Qualitative study

Kara Bagot, Elizabeth Hodgdon, Natasha Sidhu, Kevin Patrick, Mikaela Kelly, Yang Lu, Eraka Bath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: The rates of cannabis use continue to increase among adolescents and the current interventions have modest effects and high rates of relapse following treatment. There is increasing evidence for the efficacy of mobile technology–based interventions for adults with substance use disorders, but there is limited study of this technology in adolescents who use cannabis. Objective: The goal of our study was to elucidate elements of an app-based adjunctive intervention for cannabis cessation that resonate with adolescents who use cannabis. Methods: Adolescents, aged between 14 and 17 years, who used cannabis were recruited from San Diego County high schools. Semistructured focus groups (6 total; N=37) were conducted to examine the ways in which participants used smartphones, including the use of any health behavior change apps, as well as to elicit opinions about elements that would promote engagement with an app-based intervention for adolescent cannabis cessation. An iterative coding structure was used with first cycle structural coding, followed by pattern coding. Results: Themes that emerged from the analysis included (1) youth valued rewards to incentivize the progressive reduction of cannabis use, which included both nontangible rewards that mimic those obtained on social media platforms and prosocial activity-related rewards, (2) having the ability to self-monitor progression, (3) peer social support, (4) privacy and confidentiality discrete logo and name and usernames within the app, and (5) individualizing frequency and content of notifications and reminders. Conclusions: Integrating content, language, interfaces, delivery systems, and rewards with which adolescents who use cannabis are familiar, engage with on a day-to-day basis, and identify as relevant, may increase treatment engagement and retention for adolescents in substance use treatment. We may increase treatment effectiveness by adapting and individualizing current evidence-based interventions, so that they target the needs of adolescents and are more easily incorporated into their everyday routines.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13691
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Cannabis
  • Mobile health
  • Smartphone
  • Treatment


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