Senior Marijuana Use Increases, But Where Is The Research?

By Paul Gaita 09/24/19

Marijuana's Schedule I status makes it very difficult for scientists to uncover its potential benefits. 

senior citizen using marijuana

An op-ed in Forbes looked at the possible health benefits of marijuana and psilocybin for seniors while also noting that research on these subjects remains deadlocked by marijuana's status as a Schedule I narcotic.

Senior contributor Howard Gleckman cited studies that found that while marijuana use among seniors increased over the past decade, and some studies have begun to look at the potential therapeutic benefits of both marijuana and psychedelics, hard data on both the positive and negative impact of both drugs remains elusive.

Marijuana's Impact

Gleckman cited two recent studies on the subject—one, a $17 million research initiative by John Hopkins Medicine—believed to be the first in the United States and the largest of its kind in the world—to explore if psilocybin, the active chemical in psychedelic mushrooms, can be an effective form of treatment for opioid and alcohol addiction, Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia.

The second was an issue of the Public Policy and Aging Report, published by the Gerentological Society of America and devoted to marijuana use among adults 65 and older. The topics covered in the issue included regulatory and clinical issues regarding marijuana use, potential benefits and dangers of use among the elderly, and the current state of research into the topic.

Pros & Cons Of Marijuana Use For The Elderly

As Gleckman noted, the Gerentological Society reached two conclusions in the issue: the pros and cons of marijuana for any age group remain unclear, and physicians, patients and researchers alike have been stymied by federal guidelines regarding marijuana use and research.

Specific problems with researching marijuana and seniors, according to Gleckman, included one of the recurring issues with drug research, which is a tendency to ignore older adults as subjects. Understanding how specific drugs impact older individuals, who often respond differently to medication and substances—and in the case of marijuana, to recreational and medical variables—than younger adults, would be a key component in developing research for seniors. 

Providing seniors with closely regulated marijuana for testing, and understanding that some medications given to that demographic may have negative interactions with marijuana, or may alter test results, would also provide more substantive data than what is currently available, as Gleckman concluded.

"We are, it seems, running a giant, poorly-controlled national experiment in the use of marijuana," he wrote. "It has important implications for seniors who face real-world choices without really knowing the costs and benefits of marijuana on their health and well-being."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.