Marijuana may be considered less harmful than alcohol when it comes to health, but it can be downright detrimental to your financial well-being. New research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science examining the economic and social consequences of cannabis use found that people who persistently smoke marijuana were more likely to experience greater financial and work-related difficulties in midlife than those who only smoked the drug from time to time.

An international team of researchers combed through data collected from 947 people from New Zealand who participated in the long-term Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study which followed them from birth to age 38. However, researchers only examined cannabis assessments the participants completed from ages 18 through 38. They found that people who smoked cannabis four or more days of the week over several years experienced downward social mobility. They ended up with lower-paying, less skilled and less prestigious jobs than the ones their parents held. On the other hand, those who were not regular smokers ended up with jobs that required more skill, paid better, and were more prestigious than their parents’ occupation.

“In fact, we found that cannabis dependence was worse than alcohol dependence in the case of financial difficulties, such as troubles with debt and cash flow, and food insecurity,” Magdalena Cerdá, who led an international team of researchers to conduct this study, told Medical Daily.

In addition to more financial difficulties, people dependent on marijuana also experienced more problems with antisocial behavior, such as stealing and repeated lying, and relationship troubles such as domestic violence and abuse.

These economic and social problems persisted even after researchers accounted for potential differences between regular cannabis users and other study participants, including adolescent depression, lower IQ, alcohol and drug abuse, and low-income background. At one point during the study, researchers removed the role of criminal cannabis-related convictions on adverse outcomes and came up with the same results.

“I was surprised at the robustness of our results. Regardless of how we looked at the relationship between persistent, regular cannabis use and economic and social problems, we got the same results,” Cerdá said.

There a number of possible reasons why persistent marijuana users encounter economic and social problems. Because previous studies have linked marijuana to the development of other substance use disorders , and to cognitive decline, it’s possible these financial and social problems are the result of cognitive impairment and other deviant behaviors that have spawned from marijuana dependence.

“Regular and persistent use of cannabis could also lead people to become involved with friends and social environments that discourage work-related achievement and material success,” said Cerdá. “There could also be other factors that we did not account for that make people more likely to be regular and persistent pot users and also more vulnerable to encounter economic and social problems in midlife.”

While alcohol use is still a bigger problem, mainly because its use is more prevalent, Cerdá says, the evolving legal status of marijuana could increase the drug’s economic and social burden, possibly surpassing alcohol’s impact, because it makes it more available and accessible. In the domain of economic and social impact, cannabis “did not appear to be safe, and may be just as harmful as alcohol,” researchers wrote. However, the intention of the study isn’t to make a case for or against cannabis legalization.

The next step for researchers is to figure out what causes habitual marijuana users to experience more social and economic problems, as well as to examine how domestic and international marijuana-related policies influence social and economic outcomes.

Source: Cerdá M, Caspi A, Moffitt T. Persistent Cannabis Dependence and Alcohol Dependence Represent Risks for Midlife Economic and Social Problems: A Longitudinal Cohort Study. Clinical Psychological Science. 2016.