If you’re looking for a concentration of America’s most ardent cannabis users, you’re better off skipping high school hallways and hitting the local retirement home.
According to data from the newly published 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), Americans 55 years and older are now more likely to be regular cannabis consumers than middle- and high school-aged teenagers.
First reported by the Washington Post, the federally-funded researchers collected information from more than 100,000 respondents, and found that some 6.7% of Baby Boomers aged 55-64 said that they consumed cannabis on a monthly basis. Conversely, 6.5% of teenagers said that they had sparked up over the past month. The difference is small, but considering that the same study reported teen use as four times more prevalent than older adult consumption just 10 years ago, the demographic shift is significant.
Contradicting pop culture and media representations of pot smokers as teens getting lit behind the football bleachers, the new survey statistics are in line with a number of recent studies reporting increases in cannabis consumption among middle-aged Americans and senior citizens. Earlier this month, researchers at New York University published a study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reporting that 10% of all Baby Boomers had consumed pot between 2015 and 2016.
“The baby boomer generation grew up during a period of significant cultural change, including a surge in popularity of marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Health, and the author of the Drug and Alcohol Dependence study. “We’re now in a new era of changing attitudes around marijuana, and as stigma declines and access improves, it appears that Baby Boomers — many of whom have prior experience smoking marijuana — are increasingly using it.”
With weed now legal for adult-use in nine states and Washington D.C., and approved for medical use in over half of the country, aging Americans are now being encouraged by friends, doctors, and the media to use the all-natural substance for a litany of ailments, while teenagers have been inundated with anti-pot ad campaigns and strict access barriers to legal cannabis.
Of course, even the most stringent government regulations won’t stop some young people from experimenting with weed before they graduate high school, but in studies from across the legal landscape, teens repeatedly report steady or decreasing rates of cannabis consumption. Like their parents and grandparents, though, young people are changing with the times and embracing America’s green rush technologies, with new research saying that 1 in every 11 teens has tried a marijuana vaporizer.
Like most cannabis research, the self-reported NSDUH survey is marred by potential social stigma and variance across states. But as legalization spreads and we learn more about who is really using cannabis, it is already becoming clear that weed is no longer just a young person’s game.
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