Nearly one in 10 individuals older than age 50 used cannabis in the past year, with nearly one in five reporting medical use. Yet research on older cannabis users is scant — which is why this gap has been addressed in the latest (2018 /2019) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, published April 29 in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
A key finding of this survey is that older people who use cannabis medicinally are failing to discuss this with doctors, the authors from the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas, Austin, say in their peer-reviewed report. This is despite some of this group using cannabis every day of the year and others having mental health problems.
Data gleaned from the survey of more than 17,000 people aged 50 or over in the US found that older adults using cannabis for medical ailments were four times more likely to report their cannabis use to doctors than recreational users — but still less than 40 percent reported having such discussions.
The researchers say this is a concern and that doctors should screen older people routinely for cannabis and other substance use, check cannabis users for mental health problems, and recommend treatment when necessary.
This study was also the first to identify where older users obtain their cannabis, with the researchers finding that a medical pharmacy is the least popular source (only 20 percent of medical users and only 5 percent of recreational users). Instead, more casual sources such as parties are the most popular way to acquire a supply (49 percent of medical and 56 percent of recreational users).
What the majority of over-50s cannabis users agreed on was that obtaining cannabis was easy. This can only strengthen the case that screening for, and discussion of, cannabis use should be part of older adults’ routine healthcare.