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When screening patients, don’t assume grandpa doesn’t smoke weed

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Article

Study reveals 1 in 8 older Americans consuming cannabis

1 in 8 older adults is using THC-products: ©YARphotographer - stock.adobe.com

1 in 8 older adults is using THC-products: ©YARphotographer - stock.adobe.com

In a study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, researchers found the use of cannabis among older adults in the United States has surged, with 12% reporting consumption of THC-containing substances in the past year. The findings, published in Cannabis and Cannabinoids Research, indicate an increase in cannabis use among people aged 50 to 80, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent wave of state-level cannabis legalization.

The study, based on data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, conducted in January 2021, discovered that the 12% overall past-year cannabis use is higher than the 9.5% reported in 2019, pre-pandemic. This figure is higher than the 3% reported in 2006 when only 12 states had legalized medical cannabis. The survey did not distinguish between medical and recreational cannabis use.

Anne Fernandez, Ph.D., an addiction psychologist at the U-M Addiction Center and Department of Psychiatry, who led the study, said that older adults are vulnerable to cannabis-related risks. The stress of the pandemic, coupled with increased cannabis legalization, appears to have contributed to the rise in usage among this demographic, according to the study.

One finding was the correlation between risky alcohol use and cannabis consumption. Respondents with alcohol consumption at levels causing physical and psychological harm were nearly eight times more likely to report cannabis use in the past year. Even those with low-risk alcohol drinking patterns were more than twice as likely to have used cannabis during the same period.

Researchers emphasized the need for increased education and screening of older adults for cannabis-related risks, given the potential for interactions with medications, risky driving behavior, mental health impacts, falls, and memory issues.

The study suggests that health care providers should be vigilant, especially for dual-substance users, as they are more prone to impaired driving and a higher likelihood of physical and mental health issues. The researchers recommend comprehensive screening for alcohol, cannabis, and other drug use to identify individuals at risk and provide timely counseling.

One other finding of the study was that despite there being no statistical differences among older adults in terms of age, health, mental health status, income, or education, those with Hispanic backgrounds were less likely than non-Hispanic counterparts to report cannabis use, consistent with broader research trends.

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