PhotoIn the 1960s and '70s, marijuana use in the U.S. skyrocketed, primarily because Baby Boomers in huge numbers were lighting up.

Now that recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in a eight states, should it be any surprise that Boomers, now mostly a grandparent generation, is rediscovering the drug? Researchers say the surprise may lie in the numbers of gray haired consumers who are getting high.

“Given the unprecedented aging of the U.S. population, we are facing a never before seen cohort of older adults who use recreational drugs,” said Dr. Benjamin Han, a geriatrician and health services researcher at NYU.

Ham's concern is that not much is known about how cannabis affects older brains. Most research has been done on how marijuana affects young users. But right now, he says Boomers are smoking weed at a higher rate than any preceding generation.

“The paucity of knowledge in this area constrains the care for a changing demographic of older adults with higher rates of substance use,” Ham said.

Use grows by 71%

In a preliminary study, Ham and a team of researchers discovered that between 2006 and 2013, there was a 71% increase in marijuana use among adults 50 years old and older. The rate drops considerably for adults 65 and older, who make up the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation.

The study also found that more Baby Boomer men are now marijuana users than women.

“We found only 5% of these older adults felt using marijuana once or twice a week was a great risk to their health” said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, a member of the research team. “I thought the perception of low risk was fascinating because, typically, we think of older generations as drug-adverse, and perceiving most drugs to be risky. “But apparently very few Baby Boomers consider marijuana use risky.”

He says that could be related to their past experience with the drug, when they were in their 20s. Because of their past experience, Palamar isn't overly concerned with the dramatic rise in Boomers who are getting high. But he believes more research should be done to measure marijuana's effect on aging brains.


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