The number of older people who smoke pot in the US has skyrocketed in recent years, according to a new study.
Published this week in the journal Addiction, the study looks at the responses given by 47,140 adults over the age of 50 to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), between 2006 and 2013. The purpose of the NSDUH is to collect data on tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use in the US, as well as mental health issues.
Overall, the study authors find a 71 percent increase in the number of people using marijuana over the course of the study period. This is likely to be at least partially a result of new legislation in several US states, which legalized cannabis for either medical or recreational use.
The researchers also say that these results probably reflect the fact that many members of the so-called baby boomer generation – who were born shortly after World War II and were among the protagonists of the drug-fueled countercultural movement of the 1960s – reached the age of 50 during this period.
New legislation means marijuana is now legal in several US states. Jan Mika/Shutterstock
“Personally, I don't think we need to be very alarmed about most older people who are using marijuana,” explained study co-author Joseph Palamar in a statement. “It is probable that most older users are at least somewhat experienced and are hopefully at reasonably low risk of harming themselves or others after use.”
However, the effects of marijuana on older people have not yet been studied in detail, so no one really knows how smoking weed will influence the health of baby boomers.
For example, with older people more susceptible to cardiovascular illnesses and lung infections, it’s important to figure out how using pot may or may not increase these risks.
The survey revealed that cannabis was most prevalent among those aged 50 to 64, and that the number of marijuana users in this age group rose by 57.8 percent between 2006 and 2013. Although the drug is less widespread among those over the age of 65, results showed an incredible 250 percent increase in pot use within this age group.
Most of those polled saw little reason to curb their smoking, with 85.3 percent saying they perceived monthly marijuana use as carrying little or no risk, and 79 percent believing the same for weekly use.
“Older people may use marijuana for a variety of reasons – including medical reasons – however we need to make sure they are not using in a hazardous manner,” said study co-author Benjamin Han. “One particular concern for older users is the risk of falls while using marijuana, however this has not yet been studied.”