Study Reveals Seniors Report Using Cannabis Products to Mitigate Symptoms Associated with Older Age

The legalization of cannabis in many states for medical and recreational purposes has led to a surge in interest in using it to treat a variety of long-term health conditions and symptoms. Among the new users: older adults.

Fifteen percent of seniors report having used cannabis products within the past three years, primarily for therapeutic purposes, according to data published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

Investigators affiliated with the University of California at San Diego surveyed 568 respondents at a geriatric clinic in southern California. All of the study’s participants were at least 65 years of age, and 73 percent of respondents were older than 75.

Fifteen percent of those surveyed reported consuming either cannabis or CBD within the past three years; over half of those who responded affirmatively reported using cannabis products either daily or weekly. Seventy-eight percent of consumers described their use as medical, primarily to mitigate pain, improve sleep, or to reduce anxiety. Some three-fifths of users in the survey acknowledged initiating their use of cannabis products as older adults. Fewer than half of all elderly consumers reported ever having spoken to their health care provider about their cannabis use.

Commenting on the findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “It is not surprising that a rising percentage of seniors consider cannabis to a viable therapeutic option in their later years. Many seniors struggle with pain, anxiety, restless sleep, and other conditions for which cannabis products may help mitigate. Moreover, many seniors are well aware of the litany of serious adverse side-effects associated with available prescription drugs, like opioids or sleep aids, and they perceive medical cannabis to be a practical and potentially safer alternative.”

The study’s authors concluded: “Our study has augmented what is known about cannabis use in older adults by identifying distinct patterns and characteristics of cannabis use among them, with older adult cannabis users using cannabis primarily for medical reasons and to treat specific conditions. … Most older adults in the sample initiated [their] cannabis use after the age of 60 years and used it primarily for medical purposes to treat pain, sleep disturbance, anxiety, and/or depression. Cannabis use by older adults is likely to increase due to medical need, favorable legalization, and attitudes.”

Several recent studies have similarly reported that marijuana use is growing in popularity among older adults. An additional study that was published in the journal Clinical Gerontologist, showed that cannabis use by those over 60 years of age is positively associated with self-reported improvement in subjects’ health-related quality of life (HRQL).

The study’s findings are similar to several others, finding that medical cannabis use by seniors is relatively safe and effective at mitigating pain and improving self-reported quality of life. Data published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in 2019 reports that rates of marijuana use is climbing among those ages 65 and older.

RESOURCES:

Cannabis use among seniors on the rise

Study Abstract