By Linda Carroll
(Reuters) – In just four years, marijuana use grew by 75% among Americans aged 65 and older, according to a new study, and researchers expressed concern over a lack of information on the potential health implications.
The increase was most pronounced in women, those with higher incomes and more education, according to a report published on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The findings continue a trend seen over the last decade, said the study’s lead author, Benjamin Han, an assistant professor of geriatric medicine and palliative care at the New York University School of Medicine.
“Consider that not even 10 years ago 0.4% of adults 65 and older said they had used marijuana in the past year, and now it’s 10 times that at 4%,” Han said.
The trend is concerning, Han said, because of the lack of research on the effects of cannabis on older people. Some prescription and even over-the-counter medicines, such as Benadryl, affect older people differently, he said.
It was not known whether the trend is tied to marijuana becoming legally available in a growing number of U.S. states, or if people had been using the drug for many years before turning 65.
Although researchers initially suspected medical issues might have driven the rise in marijuana use among seniors, most appeared to be in relatively good health, Han said.
Researchers looked at four recent years of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Among 14,896 respondents to the nationally representative survey who were 65 or older, marijuana use increased from 2.4% to 4.2% from 2015 through 2018.
In men, the percentage rose from 3.6% to 4.2%, while for women it jumped from 1.5% to 2.9%. Among college educated seniors, marijuana use over age 65 rose from 2.9% to 6.2%, and in those making $75,000 a year or more, from 2.4% to 5.5%.
The findings underscore the importance of monitoring marijuana use in this growing population, said Ziva Cooper, research director at the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, who was not involved with the study.
“Without these data, we wouldn’t know what was going on in this age group,” she said. “It’s the fastest growing one and it’s important to study.”
It also points to the need for additional research.
“You want to know about the frequency of use, what percentage are using daily, weekly, monthly, and what are the consequences of use in this age group,” Cooper said. “Another question is are these people newly initiating use or are they ones who were smoking marijuana in the ’60s and ’70s and are going back to it now.”
(Reporting by Linda Carroll; Editing by Bill Berkrot)