Marijuana use starting in youth implicated in financial woes

Persistent pot users more likely to experience downward social mobility


DOPE BROKE  Persistent, heavy pot smoking starting in adolescence heralds serious financial troubles by age 38, a long-term study of New Zealanders finds.

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Financial health takes a hit among people who smoke a lot of marijuana from adolescence into young adulthood, even if they don’t get hooked on the drug, researchers say.

The more years that individuals smoke pot four or more days a week, the more likely they are to experience serious money problems, say social epidemiologist Magdalena Cerdá of the University of California, Davis and her colleagues. Cash woes include defaulting on credit card payments, struggling to pay for food and rent and going on welfare.

In a representative sample of 947 New Zealanders studied from birth to age 38, adult economic and social problems — which also include a fall from middle-class status, stealing money at work and domestic violence — occurred about equally among regular marijuana and alcohol users, the scientists report March 22 in Clinical Psychological Science. Of 29 persistent pot smokers who grew up in middle-class families, 15 experienced downward social mobility, versus only 23 of 160 middle-class peers who never used marijuana.

Participants who consistently qualified as dependent on marijuana after age 18 encountered the worst money troubles over time, even exceeding those of alcoholic peers.

These findings don’t prove that regular pot smoking caused Kiwis’ financial difficulties, the investigators caution. But the association between marijuana and money troubles remained after accounting for childhood poverty, IQ, teenage delinquency and depression, impulsiveness, self-reported motivation to succeed in life, pot-related criminal convictions and abuse of alcohol and other drugs on top of frequent marijuana use.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated April 12, 2016, to correct the study’s publication date.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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