Of the 17.1 million young Europeans who used cannabis, 40 percent were French, aged 15 to 24, according to a study by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction. In addition to the already known negative effects on the adolescents’ schooling, the researchers examined the impact of early experiences with cannabis on their employment status as adults.
France has one of the highest levels of cannabis use in the world, with nearly 40 percent of 17-year-olds reporting having used cannabis in the past year. While previous studies have highlighted a possible causal link between the onset of cannabis use in adolescence and later educational outcomes, researchers from INSERM and the Sorbonne University at Institut Pierre-Louis d’Epidémiologie et de Santé Publique examined the impact of this early experimentation on employment status in adulthood.
The results of the study showed that people who have used cannabis are more likely to experience unemployment later, especially if they started taking the drug before the age of 16. The findings, which include following 1,500 people for nine years, are published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Of the 17.1 million young Europeans (ages 15 to 34) who reported using cannabis in the previous year, 10 million were between the ages of 15 and 24 (according to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction – 2017). Neuroscience research data showing specific injuries in adolescent users supports the idea that cannabis use has a direct negative effect on young people’s concentration, motivation, and ultimately academic performance.
Adolescent cannabis use and labor market integration
Researchers from INSERM and La Sorbonne have now examined the age of onset of cannabis use and its impact on the future professional integration of young people. Using data collected through the Tempo cohort (a long-term health research project launched by INSERM’s public health researchers), they have identified a link between first experiences with the drug (before the age of 16) and difficulties in finding work in adulthood.
The analysis focused on a sample of 1,487 young adults who were followed for a nine-year period between 2009 and 2018 – the study participants were between the ages of 22 and 35 at the time of their enrollment in 2009. On four occasions during this period, participants were asked about the age of their first cannabis use and their employment status. Other elements were also taken into account to avoid biasing the analysis, such as socioeconomic status, family situation, school difficulties in childhood and adolescence, and psychological assessment of the participants.
The results suggest that those who reported starting to use cannabis at age 16 or younger were about twice as likely to experience unemployment in adulthood – here adulthood is defined as age 31-44, with participants aged 22-35 at the time of inclusion in 2009 – than those who had never used cannabis.
While cannabis users who began using the drug after age 16 were 39% more likely to be unemployed as adults than those who had never used the drug.
Higher risk of unemployment
The researchers also looked at the potential impact of early cannabis use on the risk of repeated periods of unemployment. People who began using cannabis at an early age were three times more likely to experience repeated episodes of unemployment than those who reported never having tried cannabis.
The study also found that late cannabis users (those who were over 16 years of age at first use) were 51% more likely to have been unemployed at least once than those who had never used cannabis and twice as likely to experience repeated episodes of unemployment.
“Therefore, cannabis use before the age of 16 can be considered an indicator of unemployment risk.
Furthermore, when comparing early and late cannabis users, the researchers found that the likelihood of experiencing recurrent episodes of unemployment was 92% higher in the younger group of users compared to users over the age of 16 when they started using the drug.
These results add to the existing literature showing that, in addition to the frequency of cannabis use, the age at which first contact with cannabis was made is associated with adverse consequences not only for health but also for the social and economic lives of individuals. Therefore, cannabis use before the age of 16 can be considered as an indicator of unemployment risk. “Delaying cannabis experimentation as late as possible should be a public policy goal,” explains Maria Melchior, INSERM’s Research Director.
Using data collected through the Tempo cohort over nearly 30 years, the researchers now aim to identify factors that predict the growth of cannabis use over time. This is all the more important because an increasing number of cannabis users who begin using in adolescence continue to use into adulthood, although the underlying mechanisms are not well understood.