The number of senior citizens who are using cannabis is on the rise according to national and state data, signaling the need for more research on how cannabis affects the aged. Cannabis use among those over 65 has increased by 300% between 2002 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Demographic data from Colorado confirms that the percentage of seniors who are registering for medical marijuana cards has also been steadily increasing since 2014, and as of last month, 21% of all medical marijuana users in the state are over 61.
University of Iowa professor Brian Kaskie, along with Dr. Sara Qualls at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, recently won a $97,500 grant to study how older adults use cannabis. The researchers are conducting focus groups throughout Colorado to collect information on older cannabis users. Kaskie said that there is a relatively large amount of data on cannabis use among minors and young adults, but little relating to older adults.
“Older adults are for example more likely to have a prescription medication to begin with. And so how does the use of cannabis intersect with that?” he said. “That becomes one question — we don’t know.” Kaskie hopes that the research will help create an accurate portrait of an older cannabis user. “We have to think about other outcomes that are relevant to them, like does this help you reduce your dependency on opioids? Or does this lead to you feeling more anxious? Or a whole host of other outcomes that are specific to older adults.”
While Kaskie and Qualls are trying to learn more about cannabis and seniors, Dr. Joe Cohen is trying to educate seniors about cannabis. Cohen has recently been holding “Cannabis 101 for Seniors” talks at retirement communities in Colorado. The doctor said that many of the seniors he has spoken to are still concerned about the stigma of cannabis use, and are afraid of or unwilling to experience any of the psychoactive effects of cannabis as a result.
Cohen informs his patients that they can benefit from the healing properties of cannabis without getting high. “We see a lot of arthritic conditions whether it be osteoarthritis, or degenerative disc disease, back problems, we see a lot of what we call neurodegenerative diseases, which are more common in the elderly population — that can be anything from Parkinson’s to multiple sclerosis,” Cohen said. The doctor recommends CBD for many of these patients, as it has a variety of medical benefits, but is not psychoactive.