Life is sweet at home

Seniors Use Marijuana

Smoking marijuana isn’t just for teenagers or Viet Nam Vets anymore. Impressive new federal data show a stunning reversal of that age-old stereotype. Middle-aged Americans are now slightly more likely to use marijuana than their teenage children.

Recently released research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported in the Washington Post, found that 8 percent of 35 to 44 year olds used marijuana regularly in 2014  (surpassing use by teens). Also, compared to 2002 data, use among Americans age 45 to 54  has jumped by nearly 50 percent.

But look at these absolutely staggering figures:

  • Marijuana use among those 55 to 64 has jumped by 455 percent. 
  • Marijuana use among those 65+ has jumped by 333 percent.

What is going on, kids?

Cannabis relieves aches and pains

These days, many older Americans are increasingly turning to marijuana for relief from aches and pains. Many have embraced it as an alternative to powerful drugs like morphine, saying that marijuana is less addictive, with fewer side effects. According to a New York Times article, marijuana can be a last resort when nothing else helps.

Marijuana, which is banned by federal law, has been approved for medical use in 29 states, including New York, and the District of Columbia. Accumulating scientific evidence has shown its effectiveness in treating certain medical conditions. Among them: neuropathic pain, severe muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosisunintentional weight loss, and vomiting and nausea from chemotherapy. There have also been reports that pot has helped people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia as well as Parkinson’s disease.

Weed increasingly available

Because cannabis and marijuana products are increasingly available for medical purposes and for recreational use in a number of states, some of the hassle and stigma of using pot has burned off. People also understand that by-and-large, people using marijuana for medical purposes do not get addicted.

Even as lots of research shows marijuana can help many people, questions are still raised about safety and accessibility. One of the issues is that even in states where medical marijuana is legal, most nursing homes do not openly sanction its use, and many doctors are reluctant to endorse pot use.

“This is a target demographic that may have their access limited, if not cut off altogether, simply because they reside in a facility,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, a group that advocates the legalization of marijuana. “It is a problem that may infringe on their quality of life.”

While there is no shortage of research on marijuana, relatively little of it has focused explicitly on older users even as their numbers grow — and not just in the United States. In Israel, for instance, older people have been treated with medical marijuana for years. And Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group, helped open a research center in the Czech Republic that is evaluating its impact on older people.

Senior communities embrace use

However, attitudes and policies are changing. In the state of Washington, at least a dozen assisted living facilities have formal medical marijuana policies in response to demands from their residents, said Robin Dale, the executive director of the Washington Health Care Association. The association, an industry group, has posted a sample medical marijuana policy on its website.

The Hebrew Home at Riverdale, New York City, is taking the unusual step of helping its residents use medical marijuana under a new program to treat various illnesses with an alternative to prescription drugs. While the staff will not store or administer pot, residents are allowed to buy it from a dispensary, keep it in locked boxes in their rooms and take it on their own.