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US: Rising rates of cannabis use among older adults are ‘no surprise’

One in five Americans aged 50-60 have consumed cannabis in the last year – is the older generation recognising its benefits for health and wellbeing?



Cannabis use has risen significantly in the last decade, particularly among older adults. Photo by RDNE Stock project/Pexels.

With cannabis use reaching its highest recorded levels among older adults in the US, this generation may finally be recognising its potential enhancing health and wellbeing.

Insights from a recent federally-funded survey in the US suggest that cannabis use has risen significantly in the last decade, particularly among older adults.

The 2022 Monitoring the Future panel study annual report, which tracks trends and prevalence of drug use, found that approximately 20% of Americans between the ages of 50 and 60 have consumed cannabis within the past 12 months.

When asked about their previous cannabis use, 21% of 50-year-olds and 19% of 60-year-olds said they had consumed it during the past year, the highest percentages ever recorded by the survey among this age group. 

Cannabis use was also shown to have increased significantly in the last 12 months among those aged 35 to 50-years-old, reaching an all-time high of 28%. This had increased from 25% the previous year and more than doubled compared to 10 years ago (13% in 2012). 

For adults aged 19 to 30, the percentages of those reporting past-year cannabis use and daily cannabis use also reached the highest levels reflected in the study.

There was also a rise in cannabis vaping, with 21% of adults aged 19 to 30 years old reporting this within the past year, a notable increase from five years ago when it was first added to the survey (12% in 2017). 

The MTF study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

NIDA director, Dr Nora Volkow, commented: “Substance use is not limited to teens and young adults, and these data help us understand how people use drugs across the lifespan.

“Understanding these trends is a first step, and it is crucial that research continues to illuminate how substance use and related health impacts may change over time. We want to ensure that people from the earliest to the latest stages in adulthood are equipped with up-to-date knowledge to help inform decisions related to substance use.”

Megan Patrick, PhD, a research professor at the University of Michigan and principal investigator of the MTF panel study, added: “The value of surveys such as MTF is to show us how drug use trends evolve over decades and across development – from adolescence through adulthood.

“Behaviours and public perception of drug use can shift rapidly, based on drug availability and other factors. It’s important to track this so that public health professionals and communities can be prepared to respond.”

Increasing acceptance of cannabis for health and wellbeing 

The findings are perhaps not unusual given the increasing availability of cannabis in the US, with 38 out of 52 states now having some form of legal access. 

Just last week top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) wrote to the DEA recommending that cannabis be rescheduled from Schedule I to Schedule III, classing it as a lower risk drug.

Other surveys have also reported rising rates of cannabis use over the past decade, particularly among older adults and seniors. In 2021 the a survey revealed that 26% of cannabis consumers (nearly 17 million Americans) are age 50 or older. 

Another recent report found that 42% of adults said they have used cannabis and will likely use it again, with 37% describing themselves as ‘current consumers’. Those aged 25-44 made up just under half (47%), with 18% aged 45-54, 15% 55-64 and 10% over 65. 

With the therapeutic potential of cannabis becoming more widely accepted for a range of chronic conditions which occur later in life, such as chronic pain, arthritis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease it’s likely that many older adults are now considering it as a treatment option. 

Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of Jane Technologies, an online marketplace selling cannabis-based products in the US, told Cannabis Health that the uptick in older consumers is not surprising given the growing evidence base for the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

“Cannabis has been proven to help people get to sleep, enhance appetite, mitigate stress and manage pain, among other things,” he said.

“Given the multiple applications to enhance wellbeing, and paired with the many form factors it can take on, it is no surprise that cannabis is becoming a very popular product for people who want to enhance their wellness – particularly with older adults who have a real interest in addressing their physical and emotional health.”

Rosenfeld believes that this increasing acceptance of cannabis as a legitimate medicine among the older generation – and interest in sourcing natural alternatives – may help shift perceptions of cannabis and those who consume it.

“Older people are traditionally fed prescription drugs to address their health. This could cause more complications than addressing the actual issue,” he said.

“Cannabis is a natural alternative and a plant-based medicine that helps bring balance to the body, mind, and heart without any lasting side effects. All people — not just older people — want the ability to help heal themselves naturally without becoming dependent on synthetic medications.

“If our elders are gravitating towards the plant, why can’t the rest of us?”

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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