According to research, the Baby Boomer generation has been rolling its own fair share of joints over the last few years. In the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.4% of adults over the age of 65 reported using marijuana during the past year. In the 2021 survey, that number increased to a little over 7%.
There are a few potential reasons why cannabis use among seniors has increased over the past decade. The legalization of recreational cannabis in 23 states and Washington, DC, has given folks of all ages the ability to access quality flower, concentrates and more. Additionally, seniors suffering from ailments like chronic pain, arthritis, sleep problems, anxiety and depression are seeking out cannabis to treat symptoms that aren’t managed by pharmaceutical medications and other traditional treatments. Instead of finding relief, however, many of these older adults are finding themselves in the emergency room.
Earlier this year, researchers from the University of California, San Diego’s School of Medicine investigated the increase of seniors in California who are being treated in emergency rooms for negative side effects like heart palpitations and dizziness after consuming cannabis. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, identified that the overall rate of cannabis-related emergency room visits by adults ages 65 and older increased from 21 per 100,000 visits in 2005 to 395 per 100,000 visits in 2019, an 1804% relative increase.
“Older adults are at a higher risk for adverse cannabis reactions,” said Dr. Benjamin Han, a geriatrician and co-author of the study. “This is likely due to a combination of greater sensitivity and being unfamiliar with newer forms of the drug. Certainly, as we age, there are physiological changes that do make us more sensitive to any psychoactive substance, including cannabis or alcohol. But we do also see older people who are not familiar with cannabis and may unintentionally take more than they wanted to.”
According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, prior to the 1990s, the average cannabis plant contained less than 2% THC. Over the last few decades, thanks to new technology, advanced growing practices and legalization, there has been a more than 200% increase in the THC content of cannabis flower. It isn’t uncommon to see jars of weed in Michigan test anywhere from 25 to 30% THC, but older adults who don’t follow cannabis trends may not realize this isn’t the weed of their youth.
When the cannabis you consume is much stronger than you’re used to, there’s a chance you may experience unpleasant side effects, including increased anxiety and paranoia, impaired coordination and hallucinations. Combining weed with other substances, like alcohol or opioids, can increase the intensity of its effects and create dangerous interactions, so it should be avoided when possible.
“Anything you take orally goes through your liver, and we only have so many enzymes to break down what comes into the liver,” said Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a medical cannabis physician and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. “However, if patients are under the guidance of a knowledgeable healthcare clinician, medical cannabis can be absolutely safe for patients.”
Vinocur also said she has seen cannabis make a significant difference for palliative-care patients who are undergoing cancer treatments.
Whether you’re trying cannabis for the first time or just haven’t used it in a while, education is the cornerstone of success. Learning about different THC-infused products and proper dosage for each is essential. For example, the recommended starting dose for edibles is 2 milligrams. Starting with a low dosage, often called “microdosing,” is a great way for folks of all ages to try out cannabis for the first time.
If you’re concerned about how cannabis may interact with your medications, consider talking to your doctor or medical-care team. And while they aren’t licensed physicians, local budtenders may be able to offer some advice on how to navigate a senior-friendly smoke session.
Courtesy of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction
Whether you’re trying cannabis for the first time or just haven’t used it in a while, learning about different THC-infused products and proper dosage for each is essential.
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