Study: Marijuana use on the rise among older adults

Study: Marijuana use on the rise among older adults
The number of older Americans using marijuana has increased, according to a study in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Marijuana use among older adults appears to be on the rise, according to a new study in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal.

The study published earlier this month showed that about 9 percent of adults between 50 and 64 had used marijuana in the previous year. And about 3 percent of those older than 65 reported using the drug during the same period.

The New York University researchers used data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 and 2016.

What did past studies show?

In 2013, about 7 percent of middle-aged adults used marijuana in the previous year, according to the same survey. The number of adults 65 and older who used marijuana was only 1.4 percent.

Although many states have passed laws permitting cannabis use for medical and/or recreational purposes, it is still illegal at the federal level. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means research on the drug and its effects remains limited.

Nearly 25 percent of the elderly people who said they used marijuana said they had received approval from their physicians.

Some researchers believe the drug may be helpful in treating pain, nausea and other ailments.

What did the lead study author say

Dr. Benjamin Han, the study’s lead author, told National Public Radio that he was surprised by the number of older adults who have begun using the drug.

Hans is concerned about older adults who combine marijuana with other substances, such as alcohol and opioids. The amount of THC in marijuana is significantly higher than it was in past decades.

“A smaller amount is going to hit you a lot harder when you’re older,” Hans said.

He said his patients often ask whether they should try marijuana for various conditions, but the lack of research makes it difficult to answer that question.