Some older persons have responded to changing social and legal
environments, and are increasingly likely to take cannabis
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
has reported that cannabis use by persons over age 50 has outpaced
recent growth observed across all other age groups. In 2000, about 1% of Americans over 50 had used it within the past year; by 2012,
that number had risen to 3.9%.
‘Cannabis use by persons over age 50 has outpaced recent growth observed across all other age groups.’
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Iowa has analyzed
the divergent pathways of cannabis use among the older adult population
to demonstrate how attitudes, laws, and individual health needs can
shape these paths.
Lead author Brian Kaskie, a professor at the
University of Iowa College of Public Health, said, "Other older persons are
experiencing age-related health care needs and some take cannabis for
symptom management, as recommended by a medical doctor."
The majority of Americans over 50 who used cannabis in the past year
indicate they have done so less than once every ten days, and
one-quarter said they used it less than five times during the past year.
More than nine out of 10 reported having no emotional or functional
problems. Older users also were statistically more likely to have
started taking cannabis before the age of 30, with many starting before
the age of 18.
Kaskie and his colleagues consider how cannabis use among older
adults is being influenced variably by social attitudes, state laws, and
individual characteristics such as health needs and prescription drug
use, and rely on previous data analyses as well as original data
collected from eight state medical cannabis programs to chart the
different paths older adults are taking.
The article also focuses on the misuse and abuse of cannabis. It
then explores two other prominent public health issues - the misuse of
prescription medications and the under-treatment of pain at the end of
life - and considers how cannabis substitution may be a viable policy
alternative to combating these problems. As of 2016, 21 states have
approved the use of medical cannabis for such age-related diagnosable
conditions as glaucoma, cachexia, nausea, neurologic diseases,
neuropathic pain, and conditions associated with cancer.
Yet, the authors argue that many critical public health policy
questions cannot be answered largely because there is a pervasive lack
of reliable and representative information being collected about
cannabis and older persons. They conclude by recommending a state-wide
or national survey - that accounts for how changing legal, medical, and
other norms have impacted older adults' attitudes and behaviors about
taking cannabis - to help advance the public policy conversation.