Because US rates for the use of marijuana continue to rise, employees who use marijuana may be at greater risk of losing their jobs.

Job loss may be an overlooked social cost for marijuana use, according to the new study by Cassandra A. Okechukwu, ScD, MSN, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in January.

They analyzed national representative data from approximately 22,000 respondents in a 2001-02 study, with follow-up in 2003-04; and 21,439 respondents to a 2012-13 survey. Analyzes were limited to participants who were salaried or actively looking for work.

The percentage of employees who reported marijuana in the past year increased from about 4.50 percent in 2001-02 to 10.25 percent in 2012-13. The percentage that meets the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for marijuana use rose from 1.2 to 2.6 percent.

In general, marijuana users were more likely to experience involuntary job losses: being made redundant or fired. With adjustment for other factors, employees who reported marijuana in 2001-02 had a 27 percent higher chance of losing their jobs in 2003-04. In the 2012-13 survey, the probability of job loss was 50 percent greater for employees using marijuana.

In both studies, the daily use of marijuana was associated with a greater risk of job loss. The data from 2012-13 also showed a higher risk of job loss for employees who used marijuana weekly or monthly.

The relationship between marijuana use and job loss was not influenced by race / ethnicity, but was significantly influenced by income. In general, the use of marijuana was linked to an increased risk of job loss in both the highest and lowest income categories. But in the case of higher income workers, weekly marijuana use coincided with a lower risk of job loss.

In a time of changing attitudes to marijuana, there is little information about the speed and impact of marijuana use in the American workforce. The new findings show that the use of marijuana has increased significantly among US workers and is associated with involuntary job losses.

"Although job losses place workers at increased risk of health problems and occupational injuries, it is still underexposed in discussions about the possible health and social effects of marijuana use," Dr. Okaychukwu and co-authors. "Future studies with a professional hygiene perspective are necessary."

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