New research shows that marijuana isn't only popular with youngsters anymore as more and more seniors decide to light one up.
Federal survey data reports that 9% of people aged between 50 and 64 and almost 3% of people aged 65+ have tried marijuana during las year.
"That's almost 1 out of 10," says senior researcher Joseph Palamar, associate professor at the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, New York City. "It's still much lower than a lot of the other age groups, but it's increasing steadily,” he added.
This basically means that the number of people aged between 50 and 64 that said were using marijuana a decade ago (4.5%) has doubled. As for people aged 65+, the percentage has increased more than 7 times since a decade ago (0.4%), said the researchers.
A lot of those people were reported to have used marijuana during the 60s and 70s, and have started smoking again, because it became more mainstream and socially acceptable now, said Palamar.
"To read that they're dipping back into cannabis use in their late adulthood is not very surprising to me," added Dr. Tim Brennan, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospitals, both in New York City.
He explained that the reason those people stopped smoking marijuana during the 80s and forward might have been the drug laws and the responsibilities of growing up.
Brennan (not involved in the research) said that because of the widespread legalization in more and more states, they might feel more free to return to smoking marijuana again.
For this study, researchers went through reports from 17,608 adults that were aged 50 or older from the 2015-2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The participants of this study were interviewed on marijuana use, as well as when did they first come into contact with it, including some information about their recent use within the past year.
Brennan thought that it's a bit concerning that some of the participants were using marijuana due to doctors' recommendations.
Almost 15% of participants aged between 50 and 64, and 23% aged 65+ reported that their doctor recommended marijuana. However, there isn't much scientific evidence that marijuana has medical properties, according to Brennan. Some more research would be needed to see just how effective marijuana is, and until then, doctors shouldn't make such recommendations.
"Telling a patient to use cannabis seems to me to be skipping all of the scientific steps we usually go through to start prescribing a new therapeutic agent," he added.
Some survey responses make a connection between marijuana use and some other unhealthy substances. Seniors that use marijuana were also more inclined to report alcoholism, nicotine addiction, cocaine use, as well as abuse of prescription drugs.
Additionally, seniors that return to marijuana use might have a different response to it from back in the days, said Palamar. This is mainly because more modern marijuana is more potent than before, and your age might affect how your body can respond to it.
Furthermore, seniors use more prescription drugs, which, in turn – increases the risk of some side effects when coupled with marijuana.
"If you're older and you're on prescription medications, you need to be aware how marijuana might react with these drugs. You don't want any bad reactions," said Palamar.
Linda Richter, director of Policy Analysis and Research at the Center on Addiction in New York City, shares the conclusion that marijuana might bring to some additional risks on seniors' health.
"The marijuana industry has promoted the drug as harmless and even beneficial for an ever growing list of medical ailments common among aging adults," she added.
"[They] might not realize that their vulnerability to the adverse physiological and cognitive effects of alcohol and drugs like marijuana intensify with age, especially in terms of their cardiovascular, respiratory, balance, reaction time and memory effects, as well as the risk of drug interactions for those who also drink alcohol or use prescription medications," Richter said.
Brennan also added that middle-aged people, as well as seniors should consider the reaction their grandkids could have when their grandfather or grandmother were seen smoking marijuana. "I don't think it sends a good message, that's for sure," he added. "Kids are impressionable, and many kids appropriately look up to their elders."
Richter agrees by saying that "as more parents and grandparents use marijuana, it becomes increasingly difficult to convey to young people that they shouldn't use the drug."
This study was published on September 6th in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
For more information, read the article about marijuana use by seniors published by The University of Washington.