The Heavy Price of Persistent Pot Smoking

Dependence has a steep and long-term cost

People who smoke marijuana starting in adolescence and into young adulthood could be jeopardizing more than their physical health. A new study in Clinical Psychological Science finds it can have significant impacts on their financial standing — even if they aren’t hooked on the drug.

Dr. Magdalena Cerdá, a social epidemiologist from the University of California Davis, said that the more years individuals smoke marijuana four or more days a week, the more likely they are to experience serious money problems. This can include everything from struggling to pay for living expenses to defaulting on credit card payments.

The study covered 947 New Zealanders studied from birth to age 38. Of 29 persistent pot smokers who grew up in middle-class families, 15 experienced downward social mobility. Of their 160 middle-class peers who never smoked, just 23 of them had financial hardships.

Those over 18 who were dependent on marijuana experienced the worst money troubles, even more than their peers who were alcoholics.

The researchers say their results don’t prove that smoking pot regularly caused the difficulties — but they say the link between marijuana and money troubles was evident after they accounted for childhood poverty, IQ, teenage delinquency and depression, impulsiveness, a self-reported motivation to succeed, pot-related criminal convictions, and abuse of other drugs and alcohol.

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‘Marijuana Has Likely Taken Over Their Life’
Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, an associate professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told LifeZette he wasn’t surprised the researchers found that those with marijuana dependence were suffering.

“Given that the definition of being dependent on any substance includes using [it] in ever-increasing amounts, not being able to easily stop, and placing major aspects of one’s life in jeopardy, if someone is using marijuana to the point of dependence they might be using all day every day. For these individuals, marijuana has likely taken over their life,” said Boyd.

“Such individuals probably have a harder time succeeding academically or being able to succeed in a workplace setting because they might also have difficulty concentrating or remembering things or sustaining motivation,” he added. “Having difficulties in any of those areas could certainly result in financial distress.”

Boyd said he believes the majority of marijuana users will never become addicted, and most users will probably not suffer much “if at all in any way” as a result of their marijuana use.

“Most people who have used or are currently using marijuana do not experience financial troubles. A subset of those who use do develop problems, just as with any substance that is misused or overused to the point of creating problems,” Dr. Alan J. Budney, a psychiatry professor from Dartmouth, told LifeZette.

Budney said individuals with heavy cannabis use and those with diagnosable use disorder are more likely to have financial hardships compared to those who use much less.

Marijuana Use by the Numbers
A recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the percentage of Americans who reported using marijuana in a previous year more than doubled between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013 (the two periods that were studied).

It found that 2.5 percent of adults — or nearly 6 million people — experienced marijuana use disorder in the past year. Three out of 10 marijuana users experienced marijuana abuse or dependence in the 2012-2013 year. And 6.3 percent had met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder at some point in their lives.

The data comes from more than 36,000 American adults, and showed that those at the lowest income levels were most at risk for marijuana use disorder.

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