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Seniors Have Nearly Doubled Their Cannabis Use

An increasing number of states have licensed cannabis sales, so a couple of geriatrics researchers wondered how many of the new users are elderly. Plenty, it turns out, according to a study published Monday in the Internal Medicine imprint of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the four years ended 2018, the share of seniors who acknowledged cannabis use soared 75%, report Benjamin Han and Joseph Palamar from New York University. This rising usage should spur clinical research on older consumers, they say, because “older adults are especially vulnerable to potential adverse effects from cannabis.”

Survey data collected by the federal government showed that the proportion of seniors reporting pot use rose from 0.4% before 2007, to nearly 3% by 2016. As legalization has spread to new states, Han and Palamar found, the share of people 65 or older using cannabis increased from 2.4% in 2015 to 4.2% in 2018.

The researchers found that certain groups of the elderly showed even bigger jumps in their number of cannabis users, including women, the mentally ill, and those with higher incomes. There was also a striking increase in use among patients suffering from diabetes.

One trend that troubled the NYU researchers was an increase in the elderly who used both pot and alcohol. That co-use mirrors behavior found in studies of states such as Washington, where pot has long been legal, and the researchers note that combining the two drugs can compound their risks.

Another finding in the new study is intriguing, given the popular rationale for legalizing cannabis to help patients suffering from chronic disease. Apart from increased use by diabetics, say Han and Palamar, most of the rise in pot use in the elderly was by people who don’t have chronic medical conditions.