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More older Americans using cannabis since legalization, study finds

More older Americans using cannabis since legalization, study finds

Legalization of marijuana has contributed to a 75% relative increase in cannabis use among Americans over the age of 65, according to a study published this week. 

The report also found a glaring difference in cannabis use along racial lines. While there was a 42.9% relative increase in cannabis use in the past year among non-hispanic whites, among all other races, the number more than tripled, from 1.1% to 4.8%.

The study, entitled “Trends in Cannabis Use Among Older Adults in the United States, 2015-2018,” found that the percentage of Americans over 65 who had reported using marijuana in the previous year increased from 2.4% in 2015 to 4.2% in 2018. 

older man smoking cannabis
An older man smoking cannabis. (Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance)

The difference was even more significant among female respondents, from 1.5% to 2.9%, nearly double.

The study also states that in 2006 only 0.4% of Americans over 65 had used cannabis in the year previous. Fast-forward to 2018, and that number was 10-times higher.

Researchers compiled the report by doing secondary analysis of figures on adults 65 and older that were published in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015-2018. The results looked at a total of 14,896 respondents over the age of 65, 55.2% of whom were men and 77.1% were white. 

“With the legalization of cannabis in many states for medical and/or recreational purposes, there is increasing interest in using cannabis to treat a variety of long-term health conditions and symptoms common among older adults,” the researchers stated. 

According to their figures, between 2015 and 2018 there was a relative increase in cannabis use of 95.8% among people with one or less chronic disease. 

The most significant increase was among respondents who have diabetes, among whom there was a 180% relative increase in cannabis use, from 1% in 2015 to 2.8% in 2018. 

It has also become far more common among those in treatment for mental health issues, from 2.8% in 2015 to 4.4% in 2018. 

Reuters quoted the study’s lead author, Benjamin Han from the New York University School of Medicine as saying that the results are concerning because of the lack of research on how cannabis affects older people. 

“Consider that not even 10 years ago 0.4% of adults 65 and older said they had used marijuana in the past year, and now it’s 10 times that at 4%,” Han told Reuters.

The news agency also quotes Ziva Cooper, a research director at the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative as saying that this group of cannabis users “it’s the fastest growing one and it’s important to study.”

Cooper added that it’s important to examine the frequency of use among this group and determine “are these people newly initiating use or are they ones who were smoking marijuana in the ‘60s and ‘70s and are going back to it now.”

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