It is quite unimaginable to many that seniors are regular marijuana users. However, it is a reality although marijuana use may not be as widespread among the elderly. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has indicated that the use of marijuana is on the increase among seniors. In fact as many as 1 out of 20 seniors may be regular marijuana users and this figure could be, significantly higher when one considers occasional marijuana use.
There are various reasons as to why seniors may use marijuana but the bottom line is that this illicit substance does not hold the same stigma as it did to seniors of yesteryear. As the baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1964, are the majority of seniors today there is a better understanding of why marijuana use may not be seen as such an oddity.
This is a generation that was accustomed to widespread marijuana use in their late teens and twenties (the 60s and 70s) and some have continued using marijuana since then. Others revisit the habit in the senior years when they have extra time on their hand, less occupation and family commitments. However, marijuana may also be used by the elderly for its pharmacological properties.
Marijuana is often classified as a depressant since it dulls the activity of the nervous system. However, it also appears to have stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. It is known to have pharmacological benefits for a number of diseases and symptoms – from easing pain, reducing nausea and vomiting, lowering pressure within the eyeball, increasing appetite in those who are not eating and assisting with sleep.
These effects may mean that marijuana can be of benefit to the elderly with chronic diseases such as arthritis, glaucoma, cancer and its treatment (chemotherapy), insomnia and also for those experiencing side effects of various drugs that have to be used. The elderly who are more likely to experience depression than any other age group may also use the drug as a means to alleviate some of the associated symptoms such as grief, loneliness, anxiety and sleeplessness.
Despite the use of low dose synthetic cannabinoids legally in some countries, known as medical marijuana, the reality is that continuous marijuana use is not safe. It is associated with a host of psychiatric disturbances and can worsen conditions such as insomnia and depression for which is it was used in the first place. There is the additional factor of drug interaction with prescription medication used for the treatment of chronic medication.
Despite the dangers, many seniors may not have the same fears about marijuana use as younger adults. The high cost of medical care, host of side effects with prescription medication and dissatisfaction with medical treatment options may all be driving factors towards marijuana use in the senior years. Addiction should not be excluded as a possible factor as well despite the widespread belief that marijuana is a “safe” and non-addictive substance.
The recreational use of marijuana is also widespread among seniors, who similar to younger users, derive the same pleasure from its euphoric effects.