Well-Being Medical Advances

1 in 20 older Americans say they regularly smoke marijuana: survey

Story at a glance

  • Marijuana usage is increasing among older Americans.
  • Experts advise caution in trying new strains of cannabis.

Recent data reveals new habits emerging among older Americans: increased marijuana usage.

UPI reports that roughly 1 in 20 older Americans reported using marijuana within the previous month, specifically with 5 percent of men and women aged 55 or older saying they have used the drug within the last month between 2016 and 2018.

This data was gathered from a federal survey that worked to gauge potentially risky behaviors among American adults, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Marijuana usage was more common among men than women, with approximately 6.7 percent of men reporting some type of cannabis use over a three-year period, as opposed to 3.5 percent of women. 

Bill Jesdale, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and one of the co-authors of the study, attributed this to the steady legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. 

“It could be there are more people using marijuana for medical conditions,” he explained. “It could be there are more using it for recreational uses. It could be more people acknowledging use, in an environment when it’s easier to say that you use products when talking to someone from the government.”

Pat Aussem, the associate vice president of consumer clinical content development at the Partnership to End Addiction in New York City, echoed this hypothesis.

“Aside from recreational use, older adults are using marijuana for pain relief, neuropathy, anxiety, depression, insomnia and a host of other medical conditions,” she said. “The evidence supporting its use is sparse, as the marketing of it is way ahead of research with the exception of chronic pain, spasms related to multiple sclerosis, and nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy.”

Nationwide, 33 states have passed legislation allowing the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in some form. Increased cannabis usage naturally accompanied 11 states where recreational marijuana is legal, but Jesdale also notes that pot use among senior citizens is increasing in almost every state.

Specifically, the survey found that reported marijuana usage increased yearly between 2016 and 2018, jumping from 4.2 percent of people aged 55 or older and moved even higher to 5.9 percent in 2018. 

Again, men showed a greater spike in usage, reporting 5.5 percent in 2016 and 8.3 percent in 2018. Women only increased by seven-tenths of a percentage point over the same timeframe, moving from 3.2 percent to 3.9 percent. 

“Of course, we saw an increase in cannabis use in states where adult use is legal, and we saw an increase in states where medicinal use is legal, but we also saw an increase in states where there is no legal provision for use of cannabis,” Jesdale said.

Despite the documented benefits of marijuana as a medical treatment and the relaxation of laws banning it, Aussem warns that older users may not be used to the craft cannabis permeating today’s markets. 

Marijuana may also have adverse effects on their existing medications. 

“There are hundreds of medications that interact with marijuana. For example, there is a concern that use of marijuana may increase the risk for bleeding in older adults on blood thinners,” Aussem said. “There are only a handful of states that mandate pharmacist involvement in medical marijuana dispensing, so many older adults are on their own to figure out product selection, dosing, drug interactions and adverse effects.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that while marijuana is legal in multiple states, it is not always safe, citing heavy marijuana usage being associated with memory loss, anxiety and depression, although scientists have yet to determine if it directly causes these diseases.

Smoking is also a leading cause of lung damage. 

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