America’s elderly population is using cannabis in higher numbers than ever, according to a study published online on Sept. 6, 2018 and available October 2018 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The study found that between 2015 and 2016, middle-aged and older adults in the United States were more open-minded about cannabis use and willing to expand their therapeutic horizons.
Researchers from New York University’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care in the School of Medicine and the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV investigated just how often older Americans are lighting up to use cannabis and other substances.
The study’s conclusion was gleaned from data gathered by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2015 and 2016. Researchers analyzed survey responses from 17,608 adults 50 and older and discovered about 9 percent of American adults between 50 and 64 years old had tried marijuana in the previous 12 months, and that 2.9 percent of adults 65 and older had tried marijuana over the previous year. In 2013, the same survey reported about 1.4 percent of individuals 65 and older had used with marijuana in the previous year. The amount of elderly users doubled in less than four years.
The study concluded that, “Marijuana use is becoming more prevalent in this population,” and warned that “[marijuana]users are also at high risk for other drug use.”
“Marijuana has been shown to have benefits in treating certain conditions that affect older adults, including neuropathic pain and nausea. However, certain older adults may be at heightened risk for adverse effects associated with marijuana use, particularly if they have certain underlying chronic diseases or are also engaged in unhealthy substance use,” Dr. Benjamin Han, the lead author of the study, wrote in a press release for the study.
But in the era of rapidly spreading marijuana legalization, one question remains: Why are senior citizens turning to marijuana now?
Marijuana Use Benefits Some Older Americans
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has historically thrown up roadblocks to meaningful research in the U.S., there are many promising reasons that senior citizens have been turning to marijuana.
As cannabis legalization is spread, more research has been conducted, and numerous studies that have found that cannabis can help individuals battling with chronic pain, arthritis, joint disorders, nerve damage, and other age-related conditions. The University of Bonn, a German public research university, published a study in May 2017 that provided another potential reason for America’s baby boomers to embrace marijuana: the possibility to treat dementia.
Another January 2018 study published online by the European Journal of Internal Medicine concluded that cannabis use is “safe and efficacious” for elderly patients, and that the use of marijuana “may decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids.”
Seniors finally have more scientific evidence that marijuana is indeed medicinal than ever before.
Additionally, the increased use among older Americans could have a direct correlation with the uptick in the number of states that have legalized some form of medical cannabis. A May 2017 study published in Health Affairs found medical marijuana laws may be associated with a decline in the number of prescriptions handed out to Medicaid enrollees.
“We found that the use of prescription drugs in fee-for-service Medicaid was lower in states with medical marijuana laws than in states without such laws in five of the nine broad clinical areas we studied,” researchers concluded in the study’s abstract.
But while some research demonstrates that marijuana can be an effective form of treatment for many disorders and health conditions as people grow older, older Americans must be willing to throw off decades of politically charged misinformation about marijuana.
Old Propaganda Isn’t as Influential on Some Elderly Americans
While the federal government’s prolonged war on marijuana was initiated by President Richard Nixon to keep the the young counterculture and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s politically disenfranchised, and silenced. According to writer Dan Baum in Harper’s Magazine, it also had the effect on all Americans who witnessed the federal government’s warped reality.
Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were taught that marijuana was a gateway drug, and they recall the propaganda posters of their time. In the 1920s, it was “the Marijuana Menace.” In the 1930s, it was “Reefer Madness.” And by the time Richard Nixon took office in 1969, it was time for the the Controlled Substances Act and a counterculture crackdown that was televised for the nation to see.
After decades of being fed misinformation, a brainwashed and traumatized generation informed by modern research and a media landscape eager to cover marijuana legalization, has helped shrug off the nonsensical war on weed and has allowed seniors to judge cannabis based on its own merits.