Stereotypes about Cannabis Consumption Off Base, Again

A new study seems to undermine the assumption that cannabis is primarily consumed by young people.

Emerging cannabis research often ends up disproving who consumes cannabis. Now, a new study seems to undermine the assumption that weed is primarily consumed by young people. In fact, new data shows that the number of senior citizens smoking weed has seen a rapid increase in recent years.

New Data Points to Increasing Cannabis Consumption

In a study published earlier this week, researchers analyzed stats from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, including the rates of cannabis use among senior citizens.

After looking at survey responses from 17,608 adults 50 and older, researchers identified a number of potentially important trends. In particular, they discovered that rates of use in this age group have steadily increased in recent years.

The prevalence of past-year marijuana consumption among those between the ages of 50 and 64 rose to nine percent in 2015-2016. Similarly, rates of past-year consumption among those 65 and older rose to 2.9 percent.

But the study wasn’t only looking at how many seniors now consume cannabis. They also looked for any other possible connections. One of the key connections they found had to do with the use or misuse of drugs.

When researchers analyzed this data, they found that “prevalence of past-year alcohol use disorder, nicotine dependence, cocaine use, and misuse of prescription medications were higher among marijuana users compared to non-users.”

After analyzing all data, researchers working on the project concluded that “marijuana use is becoming more prevalent in this population and users are also at high risk for other drug use.”

Cannabis and Age Cohorts: Who’s Smoking More Weed?

The data used in this study is even more interesting when stacked up against trends of cannabis use among other age cohorts. In particular, among teens and young adults.

As legalization spreads to more and more states, researchers have devoted significant effort to studying how it affects young people. These types of studies consistently find that legalization does not lead to higher rates of use among teens.

For example, a study published last month concluded that the presence of nearby medical marijuana dispensaries did not affect rate of use among adolescents. Similarly, a study published only a few weeks ago discovered that teen marijuana consumption has actually declined in California in recent years. That trend has so far held true even as legal recreational sales began earlier this year.

Importantly, these and other similar studies suggest that teen rates of use have fallen even as cannabis has become more accepted and available. These findings are consistent with data from other weed-legal states.

Moving beyond cannabis, some studies have also looked at drug use in the age of legal weed. Interestingly, a 2017 study found that teen drug use in Colorado has declined as well since weed became legal.

All of these studies undermine the popular claim that legalization will lead to increased use among young people. In fact, a very different picture emerges when we look at all available data.

Taken as a whole, current research suggests that it’s not young people who are consuming more weed. Rather, it’s older generations that are now consuming more cannabis than in the past.

Move aside, kids. And pass grandma the bong.

A new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence on Thursday found that older Americans are increasingly turning to marijuana, particularly for medical purposes.

How big is the trend? Twice as many adults aged 50-64 (nine percent) and about seven times as many adults 65 and older (three percent) reported using cannabis in the past year, compared to a decade ago.

Researchers at New York University Medical School and NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing investigated how the baby boomer generation is approaching marijuana in the era of legalization, building on previous research that’s shown substantial increases in consumption among the middle-age and older population.

Using data from the 2015-2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the team found more evidence that boomers are cultivating a renewed appreciation for cannabis. They analyzed the survey responses of more than 17,600 adults over age 50 for the study.

And while of course not everyone sparks up for the same reason, Dr. Benjamin Han, lead author of the study, suggested that the older generation’s unique history with drug culture may be a contributing factor.

“The baby boomer generation grew up during a period of significant cultural change, including a surge in popularity of marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s,” Han said in a press release. “We’re now in a new era of changing attitudes around marijuana, and as stigma declines and access improves, it appears that baby boomers—many of whom have prior experience smoking marijuana—are increasingly using it.”

It’s still the case that younger adults are the most prevalent cannabis consumers, but as public perception of the plant has shifted, so too have the demographics.

Divergent demographic trends.

At the same time that older Americans have become more taken with tokin’, youth consumption is on the decline, according to several recent studies. For instance, a survey released last month showed significant drops in marijuana use among junior high and high school students in California, even after the state fully legalized cannabis.

That’s true of other states like Colorado that have moved to legalize, too, according to a federally-funded 2017 survey.

“We haven’t seen a big spike in consumption,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told Rolling Stone in April. “The only increase in consumption is among senior citizens, which we think is either Baby Boomers coming home to roost or arthritis and the aches and pains of growing older—people finding that marijuana is better pain solution than opioids or other things.”

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