Younger generations are the ones becoming known for cannabis use and for being the major force behind marijuana law reform in the U.S. But they are not the only ones that have discovered (or in this case, maybe rediscovered) the wonders of the cannabis plant.
A new study recently published in the journal Addiction looked specifically at marijuana use among older generations. The researchers looked at responses from 47,140 adults aged 50 and older in the United States by studying data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2006 to 2013.
In that time frame, marijuana use among those 50 and older increased a substantial 71%. Most of that gain has come from those aged 50 to 64, but use increased for those over the age of 65 as well.
“Given the unprecedented aging of the U.S. population, we are facing a never before seen cohort of older adults who use recreational drugs,” said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, a geriatrician and health services researcher at the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) who led the team behind the study.
“With the increased availability of legalized marijuana, there is an urgent need to understand the prevalence of its use and also its effects among older generations,” Dr. Han said. “The paucity of knowledge in this area constrains the care for a changing demographic of older adults with higher rates of substance use.”
Researchers noticed that most self-reporting marijuana users say they started their cannabis consumption before the age of 18, which means that older users either continued their use from then or that they recently rediscovered marijuana and its effects. Digging deeper into the numbers, we find that most older users have been consuming marijuana since before they were 35.
“Personally, I don’t think we need to be very alarmed about most older people who are using marijuana, as our results suggest that only 4% started use after age 35,” said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a CDUHR affiliated researcher. “It is probable that most older users are at least somewhat experienced and are hopefully at reasonably low risk of harming themselves or others after use.”
What seemed to worry researchers most was older, inexperienced users mixing marijuana with other prescription drugs and experiencing falls or other adverse effects.
Of course, no story on a study about marijuana would be complete without pointing out that more research is needed in these areas, as the researchers in this particular study point out.
In any case, as more information about cannabis comes out it’s not surprising that older folks would turn to it, especially for medicinal reasons to treat various ailments. In the coming years it would also come as no surprise if use among those 50 and older continued to increase.