A new study shows that an unprecedented number of older Americans are using marijuana.
Cannabis use among adults aged 50 and older jumped up by more than two-thirds between 2006 and 2013, according to a new study by researchers from New York University Langone Medical Center.
Headed by geriatrician Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, the researchers of the study examined the prevalence of marijuana use through the years using data derived from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
Between 2006 and 2013, marijuana use among adults aged 50 and older was found to have increased by 71 percent. Most of the gain came from those between the ages of 50 to 64, but prevalence also increased for adults aged 65 and over. Prevalence was found to be higher among men than women over all years.
“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 Han, in a statement.
The study also found that in 2013, just 5 percent of older adults using marijuana once or twice a week considered their use to be a risky behavior.
“I thought the perception of low risk was fascinating because, typically, we think of older generations as drug-adverse, and perceiving most drugs to be risky,” said assistant professor and researcher Dr. Joseph J. Palamar. “But apparently very few Baby Boomers consider marijuana use risky. But after all, this was the generation who was there, in the late 1960s, when the counterculture revolution exploded marijuana into mainstream popularity.”
The majority of self-reported marijuana users did indicate that they first began using marijuana before the age of 18, suggesting that current users didn’t just recently being consuming cannabis — they either continued use from their younger years or returned to using it.
“Personally, I don’t think we need to be very alarmed about most older people who are using marijuana,” said Palamar, “as our results suggest that only 4% started use after age 35. 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.”
However, it’s true that social attitudes regarding marijuana use have shifted significantly over the years. A Pew Research Poll from October found that 57 percent of U.S. adults believe marijuana for recreational purposes should be legalized, and a recent Gallup poll indicates that one in eight adults use marijuana currently.
“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,” said Han. “The paucity of knowledge in this area constrains the care for a changing demographic of older adults with higher rates of substance use.”
The greater use of marijuana among Baby Boomers could be due to a combination of social acceptance and the prevalence of chronic pain that affects older generations.
“Older people may use marijuana for a variety of reasons — including medical reasons — however we need to make sure they are not using in a hazardous manner since older adults may be vulnerable to its possible adverse effects. One particular concern for older users is the risk of falls while using marijuana, however this has not yet been studied,” added Han.
You can access the study, “Demographic Trends among Older Cannabis Users in the United States, 2006-2013”, via the research journal Addiction, here.
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