Study: Teen Pot Smokers May End Up on Disability as Adults

By Paul Gaita 08/22/14

An extensive study conducted by Swedish researchers found that male pot smokers are more likely to require disability pensions when they're older.

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Men who smoked marijuana at 18, and especially heavy users, are more likely to require disability pensions by the time they reach their late 50s. That’s the finding of a recent study in Sweden, which looked at data culled from nearly 50,000 men born between 1949 and 1951 who also completed compulsory military service in 1969 and 1971.

Information on the subject’s drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, as well as their social background, educational experience and general health—including any psychological issues—was analyzed and used to group the study subjects by their frequency of marijuana at the age of 18. This information was compared against data compiled from the Swedish national social insurance agency and labor market statistics to see how many members of the study group had been receiving disability pensions through the year 2008.

The study research showed that men who had used marijuana more than 50 times before the age of 13—about 1.5% of the men included in the study—were 30% more likely to require disability pensions between the ages of 40 and 59. Those who used pot less frequently were also seen to have a greater chance of needing disability by middle age.

When researchers adjusted the data for other factors, including additional substance use by the age of 18, as well as any health or socioeconomic issues, the results for the heaviest of pot smokers remained essentially the same. The study’s authors concluded that “adolescent cannabis use may lead to a series of negative life events such as illness and associated disability pensions,” said study leader Anna-Karin Danielsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The study authors acknowledge that their data does not conclusively prove that pot use in teen years contributed directly to disability use, nor does it indicate how much marijuana the test subjects used after they entered the military. It is also unclear whether pot use in adolescence contributed to stronger substance abuse, or if it was an indicator of psychological or social issues that would later contribute to the need for disability.

Marijuana use in Sweden is significantly lower than in many other countries, due in part to social stigma regarding the drug, as well as stiff fines for use and possession. Less than 10% of adults in Sweden have used cannabis in their lifetime, compared to 51.6% of U.S. adults have tried it during their lifetime.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.