The use of cannabis by people over the age of 50 has seen a great jump. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only 1 percent of this group used marijuana in 2000, but 3.9 percent used it in 2012.
A recent study by the University of Iowa focused on what variables were influencing the use among this group. Lead author Brian Kaskie, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said that some older people are reacting to shifting social and legal environments and are more likely to now use marijuana recreationally.
Other older people may use medical marijuana as recommended by a doctor for various medical conditions. Those over 50 who used marijuana in the past year reported that the use was less than once every 10 days and 25 percent said they used it less than five times a year.
Almost all the participants said they had no functional or emotional problems. It was found that older users were more likely to have begun using marijuana before the age of 30, with some starting before age 18.
Some of the factors that contributed to the use included changing social attitudes (much covered by the media), state laws, health needs and prescription use.
The study authors were unhappy with the lack of information regarding marijuana use by older adults. As of 2016, 29 states, including the District of Columbia, have approved medical marijuana use for age-related diagnosable conditions including glaucoma, cachexia (a wasting disease), nausea, neurologic diseases, neuropathic pain and cancer-associated conditions.
Although older adults may consider marijuana use, they should be aware of the possible consequences.
Effects of marijuana use
Before using any medication or drug, a person should be aware of what side effects may occur and what the short- and long-term effect may be. When marijuana is smoked, THC (the mind-altering component) is quickly carried to the brain via the bloodstream. Edibles containing marijuana take 30 minutes to an hour to take effect. These effects include:
- Altered senses
- Distorted sense of time
- Mood changes
- Diminished body movement
- Trouble solving problems
- Disrupted thoughts and memory
Smoked marijuana is irritating to lung tissue, can cause a cough and increase the risk of lung disease. It is not known whether marijuana smokers have a higher cancer risk. The drug increases heart rate, which can remain elevated as long as three hours following use. Although many believe marijuana does not have addictive properties, research has shown that 30 percent of users may progress to problem use, which can foster dependence and lead to addiction.
Effects on mental health
Research suggests that marijuana use increases the risk for depression and schizophrenia. The effects of marijuana can be accelerated in older users, although not a lot of research has been done. Older users may already have poorer cognitive function, and marijuana can accentuate that. Older people metabolize drugs more slowly than younger people, so marijuana can remain in the body longer and disrupt memory function.
Sovereign Health treats addictions and behavioral health disorders. Our successful Personal Recovery Integrating Men’s Experiences (PRIME) program is located in Palm Desert, California. The program is specifically for men over the age of 40 and includes marijuana abuse treatment. Call our 24/7 helpline for further information.
About the author
Veronica McNamara is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. She is a former registered nurse who enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness which, unfortunately, still bears an unwarranted stigma. For more information and other inquiries on this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.