Seniors are the fastest-growing age group to use marijuana despite barriers, study finds

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Americans the age of 65 and over are using marijuana more than any age group despite problems to obtaining legal access, according to experts from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

In a study published this week in the medical journal Drugs & Aging, researchers found that older people are turning to cannabis to treat symptoms of problems like arthritis, Parkinson’s, and chronic pain. However, the age group encountered several barriers when trying to purchase cannabis in legal states.

“From a physician’s perspective it’s very easy for us to think that it’s black or white, one or the other, people are either just using for medical reasons or just using recreational,” Hillary Lum, a co-author of the Colorado study and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in a statement. “So it’s an important takeaway for clinicians to ask about all reasons for use.”

The study surveyed seniors all over the state of Colorado and received 274 respondents, 65% of whom were women, between the ages of 60 and 94. The median age was 72.5.

According to Lum, 45% reported using cannabis during the past year, with 54% of those cannabis-consuming seniors reported both medical and recreational use.

Researchers found that some patients were generally reluctant to ask their doctors for a recommendation to obtain medical marijuana. Choosing instead to pay more for recreational cannabis.

“I think [doctors can] be a lot more open to learning about it and discussing it with their patients,” said one respondent. “Because at this point I have told my primary care I was using it on my shoulder. And that was the end of the conversation. He didn’t want to know why, he didn’t want to know about effects, didn’t want to know about side effects, didn’t want to know anything.”

The most common reason among seniors was to treat arthritis and back pain, followed by anxiety and depression.

“From a physician’s standpoint, this study shows the need to talk to patients in a non-judgmental way about cannabis,” said Lum. “Doctors should also educate themselves about the risks and benefits of cannabis and be able to communicate that effectively to patients.”

The 2016 National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that cannabis use among adults over age 65 has increased tenfold.

Oscar Pascual is the editor of Smell the Truth, syndicated on GreenState and SFGATE. Smell The Truth is one of the internet’s most popular destinations for cannabis-related news and culture. This blog is not written or edited by Hearst. The authors are solely responsible for the content.