Marijuana Use Leads to Downward Mobility

Heavy, persistent pot use is bad news for those who hope to be financially and socially successful by midlife.

Heavy, persistent pot use is bad news for those who hope to be financially and socially successful by midlife.

Cannabis is not safer than alcohol in terms of the risk of negative real life financial outcomes, such as not being able to pay for food and basic living expenses, according to a multi-year study of a large cohort in New Zealand.

“Our study found that regular cannabis users experienced downward social mobility and more financial problems such as troubles with debt and cash flow than those who did not report such persistent use,” said the lead researcher, Magdalena Cerda DrPH, an associate professor at the University of California at Davis Health System.

“Regular long-term users also had more anti-social behaviors at work, such as stealing money or lying to get a job, and experienced more relationship problems, such as intimate partner violence and controlling abuse,” she added.

Cerda noted that “Alcohol is still a bigger problem than cannabis because alcohol use is more prevalent than cannabis use. But as the legalization of cannabis increases around the world, the economic and social burden could increase as well.”

Some of the other associations the study found among study participants at age 38 were:

  • Persistent cannabis users who had middle-class childhoods had lower economic status than their parents with 51.7 percent experiencing this downward social mobility as compared with 14.4 percent of those who didn’t use cannabis. Meanwhile 33.1 percent of the non-user study participants raised in middle class families experienced upward social mobility and only 6.9 percent of the heavy cannabis users did. Economic status was measured by higher or lower occupations than their parents in terms of prestige, skill and pay
  • The most dependent cannabis users had almost seven times higher mean rate of being on welfare benefits than those who didn’t use cannabis and more than five times higher for food insecurity. The most dependent groups also had lower credit ratings.
  • The mean rate for being a perpetrator of violence was three times higher for the most dependent cannabis users than those who didn’t use cannabis.
  • Anti-social workplace behavior, relationship conflict, financial problems and declines in social class became worse the longer the period of cannabis dependence or persistent use.

Cannabis was not associated with fewer problems than alcohol and in terms of economic difficulties. It appeared to cause more problems. “Cannabis may be safer for than alcohol for your health, but not for your finances,” said co-author Terrie Moffitt PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and chair of the department of Social Behavior and Development at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.

Since this longitudinal study followed the cohort from birth, it was able to rule out long-term, heavy mairjuana use being due to characteristics, such as lower IQ or anti-social behavior in adolescence.

“Associations were not explained by socio-economic adversity, childhood psychopathology, achievement orientation, or family structure, early onset of cannabis dependence, or comorbid substance dependence,” the study explained.

In addition, criminal prosecutions did not affect the findings, said co-author, Avshalom Caspi PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and chair of the department of social/personality psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. “Even among cannabis users who were never convicted for a cannabis offense, we found that persistent and regular cannabis use was linked to economic and social problems.”

To reach these conclusions Cerda and her colleagues reviewed assessments of marijuana use among the famous Duneden, New Zealand cohort. That group has been followed from birth to now age 38. The researchers reviewed the records of 947 people at ages 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38. They defined persistent cannabis use as using for four or more days a week in the year previous to one or more of the age-related assessment stages.

“In light of the decreasing public perceptions of risk associated with cannabis use, and the movement to legalize cannabis use, we hope that our findings can inform discussions about the potential implications of greater availability and use of cannabis,” the authors concluded.

The study was published March 22 in the Online First issue of the journal Clinical Psychological Sciences