Cannabis Use Rises Tenfold Among Older Americans

Elderly Hands Holding Cannabis Plant
Updated on July 25th 2023

The use of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes has reportedly risen in recent years following a spate of approved legalization measures throughout the United States>. Interestingly, the fastest growing American demographic for cannabis use may be senior citizens – or individuals aged 65 and older. Dr. Hillary Lum is a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. Lum conducted a recent study on self-reported rates of cannabis use. As per her final research totals earlier this year, 3.7% of seniors reported using cannabis in 2019 (with the frequency of use varying by individual). The the 2021 National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that more than 7% of Americans aged 65 and older reported using cannabis - an increase of nearly double in just two years.

Why the Rise?

Data from the 2007 National Survey of Drug Use and Health shows that only 0.3% of Americans 65 and older reported the use of cannabis that year. According to 2021 data, the use of cannabis in senior citizens was more than twenty times higher after less than fifteen years. Presumably, the legalization of cannabis within the state of Colorado after Amendment 64 contributed to rising rates of reported use. With more than three-quarters of states legalizing medical cannabis to date and more than half also permitting adult recreational use, cannabis has seldom been closer to mainstream culture than at this juncture in our nation’s history.

Many seniors may have increased access to cannabis and related substances with the insurgence of dispensaries filling communities around the nation. Prior to legalization, many older Americans with an interest in cannabis may have resisted the substance for fear of potential legal or occupational repercussions. Dealing with drug dealers, risking jail time, and potentially suffering professional fallout as a result of random testing was likely just too high of a risk for many middle-aged adults of their generation. However, concerns about smoking near impressionable young children or risking your career are no longer relevant for many as their retirement years take hold. The greatest reported reason for marijuana use among elderly Americans isn’t pleasure – it’s pain. Pain relief, that is. In the University of Colorado Boulder research study, worsening health issues were the most frequently cited reason for the use of cannabis. Senior citizens experience higher levels of almost every type of health issue than younger demographics, from ailments affecting mobility like arthritis and osteoporosis, to life-threatening afflictions such as cancer. Many of those afflicted have used cannabis in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms of their ailments.

Grandma’s Baking Again

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Many senior citizens aren’t exactly new to the use of marijuana. For the reasons we mentioned above, many older Americans took a break for a decade or more to prioritize other aspects of their lives, with which they felt cannabis would conflict.

Adele Frascella is among the group of Americans who have returned to cannabis consumption after at least a decade away. Aged 70, Frascella openly recounted her earlier experiences with cannabis. “I used to do it when I was like 18, 19, 20. And then I had a baby, got married and stopped.” Since her original re-entry to the substance, she’s stated that she finds cannabis too abrasive when smoking and has generally opts instead for edible forms – like chocolate bars and infused beverages.

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