Growing fast, driving slow– new research on senior cannabis consumers

senior cannabis consumers driving

Seniors continue exploring the world of cannabis for health, wellness, and fun. The number of seniors choosing cannabis has almost tripled in the last ten years, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

This is reflected at the state level, too. Department of Health data in Washington state shows that seniors are the only demo to have grown sharply following legalization. In 2011, less than one percent of seniors reported consuming cannabis. By 2019, nearly one in ten were regularly visiting the dispensary.

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Elsewhere, retirees are fighting for their right to go into the dispensary. Seniors in Walnut Creek, Calif. urged the local government to allow brick-and-mortar cannabis dispensaries in the East Bay town. The one dispensary in town is currently licensed solely to deliver products within the retirement community. The mayor said that it wouldn’t happen, citing robberies.

Though the fight for a weed shop in Walnut Creek continues, it demonstrates the demand for cannabis access in senior communities. As the demographic grows, so does interest in it, and research around seniors and cannabis steadily hits the wire. The most recent had participants hitting the road, well, the virtual road.

Research says driving high is bad, no matter your age

A study published this week identified whether seniors who had been long-time cannabis consuming seniors can drive high–and also if they would. No one should drive stoned, but just in case, researchers look at the impact of senior cannabis consumers driving.

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Over 30 self-proclaimed “regular using” seniors aged 65 to 71 opted into the study. The seniors were put into a driving simulator before consuming their “preferred amount” of cannabis. Participants jumped in the simulator again 30 minutes after and once more at 180 minutes.

Tests occurred in standard conditions and distracted ones. Researchers analyzed blood THC and CBD levels at each interval, and most participants consumed weed testing at 18.74 percent THC and 1.5 percent CBD. The primary measurement for good driving was how much people weaved through lanes, reaction time, average speed, and their maximum speed.

Data shows that 30 minutes after smoking isn’t a good time to be on the road, but a few hours later folks were in the clear. Weaving (as in through lanes) was up, and the maximum speed was down for seniors 30 minutes after consuming, but not at 180 minutes. After three hours, most were less willing to drive. Most felt high up to five hours after consuming.

Additional research into legalization and road safety suggests that though cannabis impairs drivers, dispensaries don’t equate to more traffic accidents. This means that just because people have access to regulated weed shops, they aren’t driving around town stoned.

Senior cannabis consumers driving

While the cannabis plant might be a godsend for seniors, it could also be an issue for road safety. That is unless this demographic follows the rules like everyone else: never drive high, no matter how old you are.

Even so, the fact that driving high makes people worse for wear on the road shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s the existence of age-specific research that speaks to the broader message: more and more cannabis consumers are seniors. The verdict is still that seniors shouldn’t drive stoned, and the signal is that they are a cannabis demographic worth noticing.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.