Marijuana is a drug typically associated with younger people. The data shows that more young people use marijuana than any other group. According to data from 2018, 34.8% of young people between the ages of 18-25 used marijuana within the last year. This is in contrast to people aged 26 years and older where only 13.3% had reported marijuana use in the past year. However, studies have been showing that marijuana use has been increasing among the elderly. According to recent research, marijuana use has skyrocketed in adults aged 65 and older. The study said usage increased in the elderly from 0.4% in 2006 and 2007 to 2.9% in 2015 and 2016. The number continued growing, according to CNN, 4.2% of elders over 65 are using weed as of 2018. 

According to a study that was done between 2016 and 2018 men ages 60 to 64 reported the highest rates of marijuana use from the sample consisting of people ages 55 and over. The numbers went up for the older demographics too. NBC News cited the study and said, “use also nearly doubled among men ages 65 to 69 (rising from 4.3 percent in 2016 to 8.2 percent in 2018) and among men ages 70 to 74 (from 3.2 percent to 6 percent).”

Feature Photo Source: Unsplash

What are the patterns of marijuana use among older marijuana users? 

According to a journal article called Marijuana Use Among Adults 50 Years or Older in the 21st Century published in Gerontol Geriatr Med, many older users started using in their youth. The article cited other works that suggest that a majority of older people using marijuana initiated use before the age of 18. The article mentioned that more than 50% of them could be long-term users. 

Most older adults are actually getting their weed from a friend. According to the article, more than 55% of them are not interested in decreasing their usage. You may be wondering just how much pot the senior citizens are using. The article said that more than a quarter of the older users were using marijuana about 1-4 times per week. In addition to that, seniors were blazing up an average of 1.67 joints per day. 

Why are elderly people using marijuana more?

Elderly people are using marijuana more for a variety of reasons. One reason is that they see marijuana as low risk. In addition to that, senior citizens may be using the drug to alleviate some of the health problems they have. 

Perception of risk

According to Marijuana Use Among Adults 50 Years or Older in the 21st Century, most adults 50 years and older that have used marijuana did not perceive it to be risky. The article said, “ When asked, most U.S. past-year marijuana users 50 years or older did not perceive marijuana use as a great risk; more than 75% of adults perceived a slight risk or no risk in smoking marijuana once or twice a week”. 

Since the perception of risk associated with marijuana use is decreasing it would prompt the older adults to take particular actions. These actions include continuing use, starting marijuana use for the first time, or restart use.  This goes hand in hand with marijuana legalization in some places.

Harvard also agrees that a decrease in the stigma around marijuana could be a reason why more. According to their article, 94% of Americans are in favor of medical marijuana. That fact coupled with the fact that AARP released this article about using marijuana shows a decrease in stigma. 

Health problems

Older adults not only use marijuana recreationally but many use it to alleviate health problems. 29.8% of medical marijuana users are adults age 50 and over. According to the Harvard article, older adults are using marijuana for the same health reasons young people are, namely pain, insomnia, neuropathy, and anxiety. 

Carol Collin, an insomniac Californian woman in her seventies, uses cannabis gummies to aid sleep. She said in a CNN article “I take this little cube and it just makes me drowsy so I can sleep and doesn’t leave me groggy in the morning.” Collin told CNN that she uses a topical cream with both THC and CBD for pain relief.  Interestingly, Collin wouldn’t use these products if they were illegal. She said, “I’m doing this to sleep and provide pain relief and I find it works. I wouldn’t have done it if it was illegal.”

So why is marijuana the drug of choice for seniors for treating these ailments? According to a study published called A safer alternative: Cannabis substitution as harm reduction, it all boils down to perception. The study used Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964) in the San Francisco Bay. The result section of the study said, “Study participants described using cannabis as a safer alternative for alcohol, illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals based on their perceptions of less adverse side effects, low-risk for addiction and greater effectiveness at relieving symptoms, such as chronic pain.”

Of course, Collin is unlikely the only senior to be more open to using these products because it is legal to do so so legality plays a role. 

Is marijuana safe for the elderly?

Weed is generally safe to use however it does pose certain risks to the elderly. These risks are mostly theoretical since marijuana use in the elderly isn’t widely studied. 

Interaction with medication 

Medical marijuana, as Harvard pointed out, is typically well-tolerated among older adults. However, things get tricky with medication and that’s not unique to weed. There are many chemicals found in marijuana it wouldn’t be odd if one or a couple of them interact with medication. Something as harmless as a grapefruit could interact with medication.

According to the Harvard article, cannabinoids, namely CBD and THC may alter the blood levels of other medication you’re taking. They’re able to achieve this by interfering with the liver enzymes tasked with breaking down medication. CBD can cause this problem because it interferes with the same enzymes needed to break down your other medication. 

Pharmacist and associate professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Wyoming, Tracy Mahvan, was quoted in a CNN article warning seniors who use Warfarin to be careful about its interaction with marijuana. Mahvan said, “Marijuana may increase the serum concentrations of warfarin and increase the risk for bleeds”. The Harvard article warned about using marijuana with anti-seizure medications and blood thinners. The article also said to be open and honest with your health care providers if you plan to do surgery. The reason is “anesthesia and post-surgical pain management may need to be adjusted.” The rule of thumb is to be honest with your doctor if you’re taking any medication and want to use cannabis.

Other risks

Marijuana may affect a senior citizen negatively if they have a heart condition or if they’re on multiple medications. In addition to that, according to Mahvan, it could affect the senior’s ability to use and manage their other medication. If an elderly person has experienced delirium or other psychiatric conditions, they should approach marijuana with caution. Seniors have to also be aware that the potency of weed has changed drastically over time and should be careful about how much they put in edibles. 

Conclusion 

It appears that marijuana use is on the rise for senior citizens because they perceived it to be low risk and use it to manage particular ailments. The fact that marijuana is legal in certain places is also a contributing factor. If any senior citizen wants to begin or continue using marijuana, it’s best if they speak to a healthcare provider, especially if they’re on medication.