Marijuana Usage Rates Are Increasing Among Senior Citizens, People With Epilepsy, Other Groups

'Understanding how our older patients use marijuana and evaluating the potential effects is one of the most important questions our field must answer,' says a geriatric medicine specialist.

an older man smokes marijuana
djriel / Pixabay

'Understanding how our older patients use marijuana and evaluating the potential effects is one of the most important questions our field must answer,' says a geriatric medicine specialist.

The percentage of senior citizens who use marijuana has jumped by 75 percent over the course of the past few years, Yahoo Lifestyle reports. Women, people who suffer from epilepsy, and other groups are also seeing higher rates of marijuana use.

Researchers at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine took a look at the rates of cannabis use in the past year among people aged 65 and older. The results of their study, released this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the percentage of senior citizens who admitted to using pot in the past year rose from 2.4 percent in 2015 to 4.2 percent in 2018. That’s a 75 percent increase.

What’s more, the numbers reveal a significant spike in marijuana use among seniors in the past decade, from 0.7 percent in 2006.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Benjamin Han, assistant professor of geriatric medicine and palliative care at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, wasn’t prepared to tell older Americans not to use pot. But he did caution that older people are more prone to falls, and the lightheaded state that cannabis creates in some users could put patients at a greater risk of injury. He’s also concerned about the drug’s effects on cognition.

“Certainly, with any drug with psychoactive properties, I worry about dizziness and falls, as well as cognitive changes over time for older adults,” he says.

Cannabis is believed to treat a variety of ailments, some of which bedevil senior citizens. For example, it’s believed to treat inflammation and relieve pain — a boon to sufferers of arthritis — as well as epilepsy and neuropathy.

On the subject of epilepsy and neuropathy, researchers found that people who suffer from those conditions are also using cannabis at higher rates.

“I suspect [it] may be related to [nerve damage]. There is some consistent evidence that cannabis is of benefit for patients with neuropathy, and therefore could explain the increase in its use by people with diabetes,” Dr. Han says.

Another group of people consuming cannabis at higher rates is women, particularly women over 65. Still, rates of cannabis use, in general, are almost double nationwide for men vs. women.

Meanwhile, Dr. Han notes that his team’s research, just like almost all research into cannabis’ use and effects, is preliminary and demands further study.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Caroline S. Blaum, MD, director of the division of geriatric medicine and palliative care at NYU, who says that understanding how and why older people use marijuana is one of the key questions that researchers in the field of geriatric medicine must answer.