Cannabis use is growing in popularity with senior citizens. In fact, I would estimate 30-40% of our patients are 65 or older. There is often the notion that medical cannabis is being used as a thin veil for recreational use. It’s also easy to assume that would be abused mainly by a younger demographic, but what we are seeing has simply not been the case.
Around the world, as cannabis use becomes legalized and increasingly socially accepted, use by senior citizens is increasing at rapid rates. Senior citizens grew up on one side or the other of the counter culture era of the 60’s and it shows in our patients. I would estimate half of the senior citizens we treat have never used cannabis in their life!
A recent study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found that the number of U.S adults over the age of 65 that reported using cannabis has jumped from 2.4% to 4.2% from that 2015-2018. That is a 75% increase in a 3 year time frame! While it may seem small, it’s important to note the increase in legalization and social acceptance over this time frame.
Furthermore, this study suggested that cannabis use amongst this population increased by:
- 180% amongst older adults with diabetes
- 96% amongst those with chronic diseases
- 157% among those who received mental health treatment.
A second study done in Canada shows even larger results. Medical cannabis use amongst Canadian senior citizens has nearly doubled from 17.6% in 2017 to 31.2% in 2019. A quick summary from the report showed that:
- Of the nearly 10,000 people polled, the median age was 72 years old
- 60% of those surveyed were women.
- 44.5% of respondents were using over-the-counter analgesics,
- 28.3% used opioids
- 24.5% took non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,
- 21.4% used antidepressants,
- 12.3% were taking benzodiazepines.
- More than 40% of opioid users said their use of the drugs was “mildly” or “significantly” reduced after they started using medical cannabis.
It should be noted that Canada is the largest country with a federally legal cannabis marketplace.
First Time Users
Another study published last year in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that 61% of the participants (all 65 and older) started using cannabis after the age of 60. 53% of those polled said they were using cannabis on a daily or weekly basis. Furthermore, 78% polled said they were exclusively using cannabis for medical purposes such as:
- 73% were using medical cannabis to alleviate pain and arthritis
- 29% for sleep disturbance and insomnia
- 24% for anxiety
- 17% for depression.
Interestingly enough, 94% of respondents said their family knows about their cannabis use.
As the surge in geriatric use for cannabis increases, it continues to give validity to cannabis as medicine. At the very least, it further strengthens the argument for proper studies on cannabis use and its therapeutic benefits. While federal prohibitions have limited studies and concrete data on the efficacy of cannabis use, there is strong evidence that the limited and watered down studies we currently have are inconclusive at best.