A new survey about marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) reveals a surprisingly growing trend of its use among baby boomers. And the trend is growing fast thwarting legal restrictions. Is it that they are carrying (or resuming) their habit of younger days for recreation? Or are there other compelling reasons?
Of 11000+ responders in the survey, 83% are taking cannabis in some form either for medicinal or recreational purpose or both. Nearly 50% use cannabis for recreation and medicinal purposes. 66% of them are daily users and 5% rarely use it for any purpose. 12% have never used cannabis in any form. The findings are quite striking raising the obvious question, how it can be so important in senior living?
Further researches and studies support the fact:
According to Sciencedialy, researchers at the NYU School of Medicine and the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing observe a similar trend of marijuana use among middle-aged and senior adults. 9% of adults aged between 50 and 64 and 3% of adults above 65 years are reported to have been using marijuana last year.
The Healthline publishes of a similar trend observed in a past data survey of 2016 conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It said that the number of marijuana users among the age group of 65 and up grew by 250% in 2006-13.
Is it the young age cultural exposure driving baby boomers to cannabis usage?
Senior Living Expert and the reputed author of books on senior aging Lisa Cini is of the view that seniors prefer living their life on their own terms. According to her words, 74.1 million baby boomers in the US see cannabis not only as an avenue to freedom but a much-desired fuel for their soul.
Marijuana culture proliferated during the 1960-70’s, the growing up period of present day baby boomers. Remember the hippies taking pleasure in weed smoking? Gradually, many may have quitted it for family commitments but resumed at this ripened age or somehow continued their friendship with it.
Cannabis – a tool for senior well-being?
A change of attitude towards marijuana is also being observed. The stigma is on the decline and therefore the rise in usage. Many seniors consider Cannabis as a tool for their well-being. Legal restrictions did not help much in curbing the growing trend. That 37% of survey respondents belonged to a state where marijuana is not legalized comes as a big surprise.
Cannabis use- The purpose:
No exact data can be derived regarding the number of people using cannabis for recreational or medicinal purpose. The following statistics may throw some light on the reasons behind the growing trend:
- In a 2014 survey, about 50% of adults of all age groups say they sometimes use marijuana as a medicine.
- In most cases, marijuana is used to treat pain.
- Physicians’ groups often silently support cannabis use in treating age-related diseases like cancer or glaucoma.
Is marijuana effective in combating pain?
Old age is vulnerable to a wide range of chronic aches and pains which often becomes unmanageable with prescription killers. Mary Lynch, a pain specialist at Dalhousie University in Canada reports that even if painkillers are combined with drugs, it provides only 50% relief for 30-40% patients. Marijuana helps in such cases.
39% of patients taking prescribed opioids since long take some form of marijuana for more relief. 90% of seniors aged more than 65 registered for the Colorado Medical Marijuana Program reported pain as the prime reason.
Is marijuana as effective as opioid?
As the marijuana legalization rage continues to sweep the world with no signs of declining, it obviously raises the question of its efficacy. Or is it simply another cultural hype in the guise of medical benefits?
Patients apparently seem to prefer cannabis to opioids claiming the former to be more effective. A research survey published in the Journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research speaks in favor of cannabis usage. Data were collected from 2897 patients using medical cannabis.
- 34% of them received opioid for previous six months. A majority of them reported cannabis equally or more effective than opioids without any side effects.
- 97% of patients on opioid medication could reduce its dosage or eliminate it completely.
- 81% of the same group reported cannabis as more effective.
In 2015, 28 studies led by the Harvard group on efficacy of cannabis in treating pain drew similar conclusions. The authors also declared sufficient evidence regarding the use of marijuana in addressing chronic and neuropathic pain and spasticity from multiple sclerosis.
A study by the University of Michigan also found that cannabis reduces side effects of other medications, improves the overall quality of life of users and reduces opioid use by 64% on an average. A huge amount of anecdotal evidence strongly supports the efficacy of cannabis in reducing pain.
Mounting evidence points out cannabis can help in extending the work life of the elderly:
This provides some explanation as to why senior adults aged 65 years or more are embracing cannabis as an alternative form of medicine than any other group. Baby boomers in recent years have clearly placed their opinions about the medicinal benefits of cannabis without caring for the stigma attached to it.
In a study conducted this year, it was found medical cannabis legalization has resulted in reduction of pain along with better self-assessed health condition among elderly. It also pointed out medical cannabis law led to increase in the old age work force. This implies older adults in the states having legalized medicinal cannabis can work for long hours efficiently. In these states, full-time employment of senior adults rose by 5%.
The same study of 2019 went on to issue a statement that if implementation of medical cannabis law promotes access to medical marijuana, it would help in reducing the work-hindering health issues. Medical cannabis has the potential to strengthen the work force among the fastest growing population segment that is the baby boomers.
One cannot deny the public health emergency caused by opioid abuse, a fact acknowledged by the US President. Of 64,000 deaths from drug overdose in 2016, a majority occurred from prescription and illicit opioid. Nearly 140 Americans die from opioid usage every day.
Long-term opioid use leads to harmful addiction. Amidst this scenario, the Drug Enforcement Agency states that no such death has been reported from the cannabis overdose. In view of public health, Cannabis can be considered much safer than opioid with virtually zero risk of fatal drug overdose.
This has been underscored in 2017 by Weedmaps, a California based online dispensary rating guide that mentioned: “States legalizing cannabis saw 25% less opioid-induced deaths”. The message sparked a lot of controversies.
Weedmaps’ conclusion was based on the 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine where researchers and authors commented in favor of legalizing medical marijuana usage. According to them, it is a promising approach to cause a steady decline in unintentional opioid-related deaths.
All being said marijuana can be risky as well:
Dr. Lyn Webster, ex-president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine voices concerns about marijuana. It can affect natural balance and slow down reaction time. Elderly people are likely to face sudden falls. This is worrisome. A better understanding of the right dosage and toxicity is required. Who will be most benefitting from it? Not everybody will show similar responses to cannabis.
The risk aggravates when senior folks link marijuana use with other habit-forming substances. They can take to drinking, use cocaine or grow dependence on nicotine and other illicit drugs along with cannabis. It can also interfere with certain medications taken by senior chronic patients.
Often marijuana use by seniors may set a bad example for next generation kids especially the grandchildren who look up to their elders. This may have a negative impact on society. Unregulated or unsupervised marijuana use can invite disasters.
A majority of voters are supporting cannabis legalization and a record number of election candidates this year are speaking in favor of it. But the fact remains that seniors need to have a clear understanding of its advantages and disadvantages before taking a call.