New study finds older adults using cannabis at higher rates than ever before

Sep 1, 2020

While advertisers and Hollywood-types have consistently focused on millennials and Gen-Z over the past few years, it turns out that the cannabis industry may want to turn its attention to another group of potential consumers — senior citizens. According to a report from NBC news, baby boomers in the United States, especially men, have seen their cannabis use rise in the past few years. 

According to NBC News, the numbers come from a new report out in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reflecting changing attitudes towards the drug throughout the United States. The study’s co-author Bill Jesdale, an assistant professor of population and quantitative health science at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worchester, told NBC News that more people are accepting of and open to using cannabis now more than ever.

According to Jesdale, cannabis use among older adults is not only increasing in states where the drug is legal, but it is also on the rise in states where prohibition is still in effect.

“It seems that something has happened to the country as a whole,” Jesdale told NBC News.

Jesdale’s study collected survey data from a three year period from 2016 to 2018. According to the report, researchers reviewed cannabis use in over 170,000 adults over the age of 55; two lived in 19 different states and two territories throughout the country. The results found that men between the ages of 60 and 64 were more likely than most to use marijuana. In fact, according to the study, over 12 percent of men in that age bracket used cannabis in the past 30 days when asked in 2018, which was up from around 8 percent who did so in the same period when asked in 2016.

But that’s not all. Men between the ages of 65 and 69 saw their cannabis use double over the course of the study, from 4 percent to 8 percent, as did men over the age of 70. The latter group’s use rose from 3 percent to 6 percent, showing that older men in all age groups have become partial to cannabis in recent years.

According to NBC News, older women have shown less of a disposition towards cannabis use.

The study didn’t explore reasons as to why senior citizens were using more cannabis. However, NBC News did speak to Jesdale, who told reporters that he had a few hypotheses as to why older men might be using the plant in larger numbers. According to him, they might have “a greater willingness to admit to use because of lower stigma, increased availability of the drug, lowered inhibitions against use, and proliferating claims of medicinal benefits.” As NBC News reported, the researchers noted that “other studies have found that some older adults have turned to cannabis for help with pain, anxiety and sleep problems.”

Researchers said they conducted the study to see if cannabis would affect older adults differently than younger people. Notably, there is less research into the effects of cannabis on older generations than younger ones. “Our colleague from Canada was thinking about the use of cannabis in nursing homes, as that has gone up,” Jesdale told NBC News. “There is very little evidence base on how marijuana interacts with a lot of the medications used in that population.”

One concern is that cannabis may interact with certain medications. NBC News pointed out a review published in January in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which found that marijuana interferes with certain heart medications.

One dispensary owner told NBC News that it might be that cannabis triggers good memories in older adults. “For a lot of them, it’s nostalgic,” the dispensary owner told NBC News. “They ask, ‘Do you have the strains from when I was in college, back in the day?"

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