Chronic marijuana smokers, who use cannabis four or more days a week for many years, are more likely to wind up in a lower social and economic class than their parents, according to a recently published study led by a UC Davis epidemiologist.
The study, headed by Magdalena Cerdá of the UC Davis Health System and researchers at Duke University and King’s College London, tracked people who were born in New Zealand in 1971 and 1972 and who went on to become heavy marijuana users. According to the findings, they disproportionately experienced downward social mobility and financial problems by the age of 38 when compared to their peers.
“I think the most important finding is that people who smoke cannabis regularly over many years end up in a lower social class than their parents,” said Cerdá of the study that was published online March 23 in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. “They end up in jobs that are lower paid, less prestigious and that require lower skills.”
Conversely, Cerdá said, study participants who were either non-marijuana smokers or “didn’t use cannabis over many years ended up in a higher social class than their parents.”
The findings came after researchers gleaned and analyzed marijuana use data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. The long-running New Zealand program has tracked human health, development and behavior of research subjects through childhood and young adulthood and gone on to measure long-term socio-economic outcomes.
Cerdá said the pot study, which examined findings from 947 participants in the New Zealand program, wasn’t directed at influencing public opinion on measures in California and other states that will consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Marijuana remains illegal in New Zealand.
However, Cerdá said, “it’s very important to understand what the long-term economic and social consequences of regular use of marijuana will be” from increased habitual use of cannabis.
Cerdá said researchers considered whether marijuana’s status in New Zealand could have led to negative consequences as a result of people participating in an unlawful activity.
“There is a possibility that that is the case – that it is not collective cannabis use but it is the social environment that people engage in when they are regular long-term users” that may have contributed to the negative outcomes, Cerdá said.
Researcher Avshalom Caspi, a psychologist with appointments at Duke University and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said in a statement: “These findings did not arise because cannabis users were prosecuted and had a criminal record.
“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,” Caspi said.
While researchers said both heavy cannabis and alcohol users experienced declines in social and economic status, including “anti-social behaviors in the workplace and relationship problems,” the marijuana users had more financial difficulties, such as hardships in paying for basic living expenses and food.
The research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Institute on Aging in the United States as well as the New Zealand Health Research Council, the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the UK Medical Research Council and the Jacobs Foundation.