With the legalization of cannabis across many states in America, the number of seniors over the age of 65 who are ingesting or smoking marijuana has risen sharply in recent years, a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine finds.
According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of 15,000 community-dwelling seniors, in 2006 only 0.4 percent of adults over the age of 65 said they used cannabis products within the past year. By 2015, that number doubled to 2.4 percent and CNN Health reports that by 2018, it had doubled again with 4.2 percent of seniors using marijuana.
What’s most interesting about the seniors who are using cannabis? Rates were highest among healthier older adults who only had possibly one chronic health condition. Some marijuana users reported trying cannabis for sleep or pain control but the study also found a significant jump in older adults with diabetes using the drug. However, cannabis is not usually suggested for patients with diabetes but is often considered with conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis or cancer.
Study authors, Joseph Palamar, assistant profession of population health and Benjamin H. Han, assistant professor of geriatric medicine and palliative care, both from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, are concerned that marijuana use could interact with other medications such as the blood thinner warfarin, which is often used by older adults to prevent blood clots. And because many seniors who report using cannabis also said they drink alcohol, the risk for falls may be a worry.
Older adults who smoked pot in the ’60 or ‘70s should be aware that today’s marijuana is stronger and seniors can metabolize drugs differently than they did when they were younger. As always, it’s important to talk with your doctor before adding any supplement or medication to your regime. Learn more about medical marijuana basics for older adults by following this link to a recent AARP report here.