Cannabis use among older adults rising rapidly

Cannabis use among older adults is growing faster than any other age group but many report barriers to getting medical marijuana, a lack of communication with their doctors and a lingering stigma attached to the drug, according to researchers. The study, the first to look at how older Americans use cannabis and the outcomes they experience, was published this month in the journal Drugs & Aging.

"Older Americans are using cannabis for a lot of different reasons," said study co-author Hillary Lum, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "Some use it to manage pain while others use it for depression or anxiety."

The 2016 National Survey of Drug Use and Health showed a ten-fold increase in cannabis use among adults over age 65.

The researchers set out to understand how older people perceived cannabis, how they used it and the positive and negative outcomes associated with it.

They conducted 17 focus groups in in senior centers, health clinics and cannabis dispensaries in 13 Colorado counties that included more than 136 people over the age of 60. Some were cannabis users, others were not.

"We identified five major themes," Lum said.

These included: A lack of research and education about cannabis; A lack of provider communication about cannabis; A lack of access to medical cannabis; A lack of outcome information about cannabis use; A reluctance to discuss cannabis use.

Researchers found a general reluctance among some to ask their doctors for a red card to obtain medical marijuana. Instead, they chose to pay more for recreational cannabis.

Lum said this could be driven by feeling self-conscious about asking a doctor for cannabis. That, she said, points to a failure of communication between health care providers and their patients.

"I think [doctors can] be a lot more open to learning about it and discussing it with their patients," said one focus group respondent. "Because at this point I have told my primary care I was using it on my shoulder. And that was the end of the conversation. He didn't want to know why, he didn't want to know about effects, didn't want to know about side effects, didn't want to know anything."

Some said their doctors were unable or unwilling to provide a certificate, the document needed to obtain medical marijuana. They also said physicians need to educate themselves on the latest cannabis research.

Some older users reported positive outcomes when using cannabis for pain as opposed to taking highly addictive prescription opioids. They often differentiated between using cannabis for medical reasons and using it recreationally.

"Although study participants discussed recreational cannabis more negatively than medical cannabis, they felt it was more comparable to drinking alcohol, often asserting a preference for recreational cannabis over the negative effects of alcohol," the study said.

The researchers also found that despite the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and other states, some older people still felt a stigma attached to it.

"Some participants, for example, referred to the movie `Reefer Madness' (1936) and other anti-marijuana propaganda adverts that negatively framed cannabis as immoral and illegal," the researchers said.

The study adds to the growing literature on the diversity of marijuana use patterns in older adults, said co-author Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, ABPP, professor of psychology and director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

"Older adults who use marijuana are ingesting it in a variety of ways for multiple purposes," she said. "This and other papers from the same project show growing acceptance of marijuana use for medical purposes by older adults, and a clear desire to have their primary health providers involved in educating them about options and risks," Lum agreed.

She said Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, provides a unique laboratory to gauge public attitudes toward cannabis.

"From a physician's standpoint this study shows the need to talk to patients in a non-judgmental way about cannabis," she said. "Doctors should also educate themselves about the risks and benefits of cannabis and be able to communicate that effectively to patients."

Julie Bobitt, Sara H Qualls, Melissa Schuchman, Robert Wickersham, Hillary D Lum, Kanika Arora, Gary Milavetz, Brian Kaskie.
Qualitative Analysis of Cannabis Use Among Older Adults in Colorado.
Drugs Aging (2019). doi= 10.1007/s40266-019-00665-w.

Most Popular Now

Novartis announces plan to initiate clinical trial…

Novartis today announced plans to initiate a Phase III clinical trial to study canakinumab in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. The CAN-COVID trial will examine the effic...

Gilead announces results from Phase 3 trial of inv…

Gilead Sciences, Inc. (Nasdaq: GILD) announced topline results from the open-label, Phase 3 SIMPLE trial evaluating 5-day and 10-day dosing durations of the investigation...

AstraZeneca and Oxford University announce landmar…

AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford announced an agreement for the global development and distribution of the University’s potential recombinant adenovirus vaccine a...

Sanofi and Regeneron provide update on U.S. Phase …

Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: REGN) today announced the preliminary results from the Phase 2 portion of an ongoing Phase 2/3 trial evaluating Kevzar...

Roche's COVID-19 antibody test receives FDA Emerge…

Roche (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY) announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) (1) for its new Elecsys® Ant...

Pfizer and BioNTech dose first participants in the…

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and BioNTech SE (Nasdaq: BNTX) announced that the first participants have been dosed in the U.S. in the Phase 1/2 clinical trial for the BNT162 va...

Arthritis drug may improve respiratory function in…

A small study in Greece found that the clinically approved anti-inflammatory drug anakinra, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, improved respiratory function in patients ...

Early indicators of vaccine efficacy

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich researchers have shown that a specific class of immune cells in the blood induced by vaccination is an earlier indicator of...

Frankfurt researchers discover potential targets f…

A team of biochemists and virologists at Goethe University and the Frankfurt University Hospital were able to observe how human cells change upon infection with SARS-CoV-...

Vitamin D linked to low virus death rate

A new study has found an association between low average levels of vitamin D and high numbers of COVID-19 cases and mortality rates across 20 European countries. The r...

Loss of smell associated with milder clinical cour…

Following an earlier study that validated the loss of smell and taste as indicators of SARS-CoV-2 infection, researchers at UC San Diego Health report in newly published ...

Can an existing HIV medication slow the spread of …

A team of scientists from St. Michael's Hospital, Sinai Health and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre have launched a clinical trial to understand whether an existing drug...