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As cannabis legalization makes its way across the states, more and more people are experiencing the plant’s true potential. Recent reports show that senior citizens are amongst the biggest groups embracing cannabis.
In the past decade, cannabis use among Americans aged 65 and older spiked, nearly tripling from 11% in 2009 to 32% in 2019. This trend continued in 2021 when adult use reached 35%. Senior citizens are using cannabis to treat certain age-related health challenges, like arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, and even cancer symptoms like loss of appetite — not necessarily to get “high.” The number one reason many senior citizens use cannabis, however, is for pain management.
Despite the increasing number of seniors using cannabis, stats show older adults still use cannabis less frequently than younger generations. About 5% of adults over 65 and 10% of adults 60-64 reported recent cannabis use in 2021, compared to 24% of under-25 adult users. However, some experts say seniors are underreporting their cannabis use on these surveys out of shame.
Changing Perceptions: How Older Americans Are Embracing Cannabis in the Modern Era
Many of these seniors still remember the prevalence of cannabis during their high school and college years. Despite widespread recreational marijuana legalization, older Americans have remained cautious. However, the narrative changed as cannabis became mainstream and younger generations enlightened their elders about the herb.
Another likely contributor to the growing cannabis acceptance is the surging recreational dispensaries with professional service and daytime hours. This gives the industry a more reputable image, making it more accessible, transparent, and, hence, trustworthy.
While research on how cannabis affects older Americans is limited due to their low participation in studies, most older consumers prefer products like edibles, tinctures, capsules, or salves over inhalation. Compared to younger users, seniors are more careful with their doses, preferring medical prescriptions for optimum safety. They prioritize potency and safety when choosing products and doses.
» Explore generational product preferences in our 2022 Preference Report.
Seniors and High-THC Cannabis
As the conversation around marijuana and its potential benefits for seniors gains more traction, it’s crucial to address an essential aspect of responsible use—avoiding marijuana products with high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
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THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana, responsible for the “high” or altered mental state typically associated with cannabis use. Although widely used for recreation, many American seniors have turned to THC-laced products for their health gains. Although moderate usage, particularly under the doctor’s prescription, has shown great science-backed benefits, too-high THC doses can leave adverse effects and exacerbate certain age-related issues in seniors.
» Learn more about high-THC cannabis.
Seniors are at a higher risk of falls and accidents, often caused by poor mobility, drug-to-drug interactions, or reduced coordination. These concerns, combined with cannabis’ effects at high THC levels — impairing motor skills and balance — further increase the likelihood of accidents and injuries among older adults.
Since many older adults take multiple medications to manage their age-related health conditions, high-THC products may interact with prescription drugs. Mixing substances can lead to adverse effects or a reduction in prescription drug effectiveness. With these safety concerns, sticking with cannabis products with moderate-to-low THC concentration and discussing your cannabis use with a healthcare provider is a no-brainer.
More Seniors May Step in as Stigmatization Further Wanes
Growing interest from older patients in the therapeutic benefits of cannabis has played a major role in the plant’s destigmatization.
Recent endorsement from AARP, an organization representing 38 million members, further weakened this age-long stigma. The organization publicly expressed its support for the medicinal use of marijuana by older adults in medical cannabis states.
The organization emphasized the importance of a collaborative approach with healthcare providers, enabling informed discussions about the latest clinical evidence and a careful evaluation of the benefits versus risks associated with medical cannabis.
Interested in trying medical cannabis? Sign up for an appointment with a medical marijuana doctor in your state today!