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Seniors’ rising cannabis use concerns NYU doctors

The rate of use is up 75 % from 2015 to 2018, despite few studies being done to test how cannabis interacts with pharmaceutical drugs

Seniors' rising cannabis use concerns NYU doctors
Man smokes cannabis in a water pipe. Photo by Sonya Yruel via Drug Policy Alliance

The percentage of American baby boomers getting baked almost doubled between 2015 and 2018 according to a NYU Grossman School of Medicine study. 

That rise has some doctors worried because many pharmaceutical drugs have not yet been tested to see if they negatively interact with cannabis — despite one commonly prescribed anti-blood clotting medication already shown to be ineffective when combined with weed.

In the study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and found cannabis use in adults aged 65 and older went up to 4.2 per cent in 2018, from 2.4 per cent in 2015. 

That’s a 75 per cent increase. 

In the national survey, research participants were asked if they smoked or ingested “marijuana, hashish, pot, grass or hash oil,” but were not asked if they vaped cannabis. 

Read more: Seniors are Canada’s fastest growing demographic of cannabis users: StatsCan

Read more: Boomers make up 30 % of cannabis market: BDS Analytics 

The rise in seniors smoking cannabis is concerning because many risks still aren’t understood, the study says.

“As more older adults use cannabis, whether for therapeutic or recreational purposes, it is important for health care providers to counsel their participants despite the very limited evidence base on the benefits and harms of cannabis use among older adults,” the study’s lead author Benjamin Han said in a statement. 

The study’s senior author Joseph Palamar also called for more research into cannabis use among seniors, and noted that because the study did not include vaping, overall use could have been underestimated.

Seniors run increased risk of negative drug interaction

Seniors’ rising cannabis use concerns NYU doctors

A man uses cannabis ointment. Photo by Sonya Yruel via Drug Policy Alliance

Seniors have different health considerations to take into account when using cannabis than younger consumers. Research on drug interactions has been severely limited due to cannabis prohibition, despite Canada and 11 states plus Washington, DC, recreationally legalizing it.

Some research suggests weed can seriously alter the effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Warfarin (sold under brand names coumadin and jantoven) is the world’s most commonly used anticoagulant prescribed to prevent blood clots, and has been shown to have its dosage thrown off when mixed with cannabis. That’s not something you want to do when the medication is preventing things like a heart attack, stroke, deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. 

Mixing some pain killers such as morphine or tramadol with cannabis can also lead to dangerous drug interactions that run the risk of causing people to stop breathing, warns 

Canadian flower power generation increasing cannabis consumption

Cannabis use isn’t just up for the American flower power generation. 

In Canada daily cannabis use rose by 10.7 per cent from 2015 to 2018 for people aged 45 to 64-years-old according to Statistics Canada. Between those years, overall cannabis use rose 10.68 per cent for the same age group, compared to a rise of 10.88 per cent in the overall population. 

The Silent Generation, or ages 75 and up, remain quiet as Stats Can has not collected data on their cannabis consumption. 

In the study, researchers noted past-year use more than doubled for people living with diabetes and people who have received mental health treatment. 

Read more: Cannabis could alleviate major depression and suicidal thoughts in PTSD sufferers, study shows

Read more: Canadian doctor says Tide Pods pose greater health threat than cannabis edibles

In the survey, Americans who reported having a drink sometime in the past year were also more likely to have used cannabis in the past year, compared to teetotallers, or people who never drink alcohol.

As stigma against cannabis use fades, the rate of cannabis use in certain socioeconomic groups is changing. People with a college degree, people who are married and people with a higher income reported upping their cannabis use. 

Top photo by Sonya Yruel via the Drug Policy Alliance


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