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Many older adults are using cannabis to treat common health conditions, study finds

Researchers say consumers are open with their medical providers about their cannabis use

Photo (c) Tinnakorn Jorruang - Getty Images
As more and more states legalize marijuana, consumers are reaping the medical benefits of cannabis-based products. 

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Diego has found that older adults are really taking advantage of these products -- particularly for medical purposes. Their work revealed that consumers over the age of 60 have started using cannabis for a wide variety of conditions, including chronic pain and sleeping troubles. 

“Surprisingly, we found that nearly three-fifths of cannabis users reported using cannabis for the first time as older adults,” said researcher Kevin Yang. “These individuals were a unique group compared to those who used cannabis in the past.” 

A new wave of cannabis users

The researchers surveyed nearly 570 participants over the age of 65 to understand how often they were using cannabis products and the reasons they preferred them. The survey revealed that more than half of the participants used cannabis-based products on a regular basis for medical purposes, though more than 60 percent hadn’t started using cannabis until they were over the age of 60. 

“Pain, insomnia, and anxiety were the most common reasons for cannabis use and, for the most part, patients reported that cannabis was helping to address these issues, especially with insomnia and pain,” said researcher Christopher Kaufmann, PhD. 

According to the researchers, there are several reasons why cannabis use has become so widespread among older adults. For starters, CBD products are made without THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. This makes them more approachable to some consumers since they can use products like lotions or oils and get pain or anxiety relief without any of the added side effects. Additionally, the large variety of these kinds of products makes them easier than ever to access. 

“New users were more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons than for recreation,” said Yang. “The route of cannabis use also differed with new users likely to use it topically as lotion rather than by smoking or ingesting edibles. Also, they were more likely to inform their doctor about their cannabis use, which reflects that cannabis use is no longer stigmatized as it was previously.” 

Better outcomes reported

Though the survey participants reported better physical and mental health outcomes with the use of cannabis, the researchers want to do more work in this area to better understand the best ways that this plant-based approach can continue to benefit consumers. 

“There seems to be potential with cannabis, but we need more evidence-based research,” Dr. Kaufmann said. “We want to find out how cannabis compares to current medications available. Could cannabis be a safer alternative to treatments, such as opioids and benzodiazepines? Could cannabis help reduce the simultaneous use of multiple medications in older persons? We want to find out which conditions cannabis is most effective in treating. Only then can we better counsel adults on cannabis use.” 

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