Study: Heavy Pot Users Face As Many Midlife Troubles As Those Dependent on Alcohol

By Jose R. Gonzalez | April 19, 2016 | 12:37 PM EDT

Marijuana plants. (AP photo)


(CNSNews.com) -- Smoking marijuana regularly is linked to as many economic and social problems in early midlife as being dependent on alcohol, a recently published international study has found.

The findings “show that cannabis was not safe for the long-term users tracked in our study,” University of California/Davis Associate Professor Magdalena Cerd√°, the study’s lead researcher, said in a press release.

“Alcohol is still a bigger problem than cannabis because alcohol use is more prevalent than cannabis use,” Cerda added.

“But as the legalization of cannabis increases around the world, the economic and social burden posed by regular cannabis use could increase as well,” she said.

Researchers found that regular cannabis smokers “ended up in a lower social class than their parents, with lower-paying, less skilled and less prestigious jobs than those who were not regular cannabis smokers."

"These regular and persistent users also experienced more financial, work-related and relationship difficulties, which worsened as the number of years of regular cannabis use progressed,” according to the press release.

“Regular long-term users also had more antisocial 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.”

“Our data indicate that persistent cannabis users constitute a burden on families, communities, and national social-welfare systems. Moreover, heavy cannabis use and dependence was not associated with fewer harmful economic and social problems than was alcohol dependence.”

The study, “Persistent Cannabis Dependence and Alcohol Dependence Represent Risks for Midlife Economic and Social Problems: A Longitudinal Cohort Study,” was published March 23 by the journal Clinical Psychological Science. It was co-authored by nine researchers from five universities, including four in the United States and one in England.

The 947 study subjects were taken from a group of 1,037 members of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, individuals born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972 to 1973, who have undergone assessments from the age of 5 to 38.

Using the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the study categorized their cannabis use from “never used” to “persistent dependence,” defined as use on four or more days per week.

Marijuana. (AP photo)

The study “used measures of social-class mobility, financial difficulties, antisocial behavior in the workplace, relationship conflict, and traffic convictions to characterize economic and social problems at age 38,” the authors explained.

The subjects’ net worth, debt and cash flow, credit ratings, use of welfare benefits and “ability to pay basic expenses” were used by researchers to determine the financial effects regular long-term marijuana users faced.   

“On average, persistent cannabis users from middle-class origins attained lower adult socioeconomic status than did their parents, even after we controlled for sex, ethnicity, family substance-dependence history, childhood self-control, childhood IQ, history of psychopathology, achievement orientation, and adult family structure,” the study’s authors wrote.

"Cannabis may be safer than alcohol for your health, but not for your finances,” said Terrie Moffitt, a clinical psychologist at Duke University and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, who participated in the study.  

Difficulties for the study’s highlighted group of cannabis users remained unchanged when the same eight controls were applied in a social context.

"Even among cannabis users who were never convicted for a cannabis offense, persistent cannabis use was significantly linked to these economic and social problems,” the authors wrote.

The study’s authors pointed to a greater economic and social burden posed by alcohol use, but proffered that alcohol’s legality may be to account for the current disparity. “The burden posed by cannabis use may increase, however, if cannabis use increases after legalization of cannabis use,” they wrote.

“Our study underscores the need for prevention and early treatment of individuals dependent on cannabis. 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 study concluded.