Marijuana Use Way Up for Baby Boomers, Study Shows

By Dorri Olds 01/04/17

Over half of the users surveyed started using marijuana before turning 18, and over 90% of them before age 36. 

Baby Boomers enjoying afternoon spliffs.

A recent study published in the English journal Addiction found that the Baby Boomer population in the United States (those born from 1946 to 1964) has shown an unprecedented uptick in cannabis use.

The study was led by Dr. Benjamin Han of the Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care at the New York University School of Medicine.

After combining data from 2006 to 2013, the study found a 57.8% increase in marijuana use among adults aged 50 to 64, and a 250% increase in the over-65 age group. The study found that over half of the users picked up the habit before turning 18, and over 90% of them before age 36. 

“Historically older people haven't had high rates of substance use, but this is changing,” said Han. “As Baby Boomers age, we’re going to see more and more of this.”

The United States is in the midst of a major shift in the public's attitude toward marijuana. As of now, 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

While there are medicinal benefits that can be derived from the drug, there is not yet enough information available about the possible risks for marijuana users who are 50 and over.

The increase in cannabis use may be occurring because more people are choosing to self-medicate, especially due to the fact that marijuana has become so much more widely accepted in our society.

“While there may be benefits to using marijuana such as chronic pain there may be risks that we don’t know about,” Han said. “When it comes to, for instance, alcohol, there have been a lot of studies about effects on older populations, guidelines on how much older people should be consuming. But when it comes to marijuana, we have nothing.”

Marijuana is sometimes used as an alternative medicine to the opioids that doctors prescribe. According to a 2015 study published in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal, most of the Baby Boomers surveyed saw marijuana as an acceptable substitution for prescription medication and alcohol "because it had more manageable or less adverse side effects."

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.