Cannabis and social welfare assistance: a longitudinal study


Willy Pedersen, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Box 1096, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:


Aims  To investigate associations between cannabis use and subsequent receipt of social welfare assistance.

Design, setting and participants  The Young in Norway Longitudinal Study. A population-based Norwegian sample (n = 2606) was followed-up from adolescence to late 20s. Self-report data were merged with data from national registers.

Measurements  Data were extracted on the use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis and other illegal substances. Information was also retrieved on socio-demographic and family factors, academic achievement, conduct problems and mental health. National registers provided data on social welfare assistance, educational level and crime statistics.

Findings  We observed prospective bivariate associations between increasing levels of cannabis use and subsequent social welfare assistance (P < 0.0001). The associations were reduced after adjusting for a range of potentially confounding factors, but remained significant. Frequent cannabis users were at highly increased risk for subsequently receiving social welfare assistance. At 28 years, those with 50+ times cannabis use during the previous 12 months and had an odds ratio of 9.3 (95% confidence interval: 4.3–20.1) for receiving social welfare assistance in the following 2-year span. Users of cannabis also had longer periods of receiving social welfare assistance than others (P < 0.0001) and were less likely to leave the welfare assistance system (P < 0.0001).

Conclusions  In Norway the use of cannabis is linked with subsequent receipt of social welfare assistance whether the consequences are related to use of the substance per se, or to cultural factors and the illegal status of the cannabis. Future research should attempt to understand the interactions of factors behind these associations.