Cannabis Use Growing Rapidly Among Over 65’s, But Doctors Are Letting Them Down

Research coming out of the US is showing that the fastest growing group of cannabis users is older adults.

This is despite the fact that many doctors prescribe or suggest the plant, coupled with the fact that many people of a certain age have a distorted view of just what cannabis is thanks to outdated but effective propaganda.

10x increase

Published in the journal of ‘Drugs and Aging’ this study is the first of its type to examine cannabis use in older individuals.

“Older Americans are using cannabis for a lot of different reasons,” according to co-author of the study Hillary Lum PHD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“Some use it to manage pain while others use it for depression or anxiety,” she says.

The 2016 survey by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health indicated an ten-fold increase in the amount of cannabis among the over 65’s compared with previous years.

The study

Those carrying out the research wanted to understand how cannabis was perceived by older people, as well as the good and bad effects they experienced.

17 focus groups took place in senior centres, cannabis dispensaries and health clinics across 13 of Colorado’s counties. The groups included more than 136 people above the age of 60. Some of them used cannabis and others did not.

Five clear themes were identified and occurred often after speaking with the study’s subjects.

1. A lack of research and education regarding cannabis

2. A lack of provider communication regarding cannabis

3. A lack of access to medical cannabis

4. A lack of outcome information regarding cannabis use

5. A reluctance to discuss cannabis use

Doctors not helping

The researchers learned of a general reluctance amongst the older adults to ask for a medical cannabis card. Most preferred to go and buy the cannabis themselves from a dispensary, where local laws now allow them to do so.

These issues might be fuelled by feelings of self consciousness experienced when it comes to actually asking a doctor for cannabis face to face, which would appear to suggest a lack of communication between providers of healthcare and their patients.

One of members of the focus groups stated:

“I think [doctors can] be a lot more open to learning about it and discussing it with their patients … Because at this point I have told my primary care I was using it on my shoulder. And that was the end of the conversation. He didn’t want to know why, he didn’t want to know about effects, didn’t want to know about side effects, didn’t want to know anything.”

Some of the respondents communicated that their doctors were unwilling or unable to provide them with a medical cannabis certificate.

Positive effects

Many of the older cannabis users reported that they had had positive outcomes when they used cannabis for pain – especially in comparison to the much more dangerous and addictive opioid options available.

Some of them compared cannabis use to alcohol:

“Although study participants discussed recreational cannabis more negatively than medical cannabis, they felt it was more comparable to drinking alcohol, often asserting a preference for recreational cannabis over the negative effects of alcohol,”

Negative stigma

It was also discovered that for some that, even though cannabis has been legalised in Colorado, they felt there was still some kind of negative stigma attached to cannabis. According to one of the researchers:

“Some participants, for example, referred to the movie `Reefer Madness’ (1936) and other anti-marijuana propaganda adverts that negatively framed cannabis as immoral and illegal”

Co-author of the study Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, ABPP said this:

“Older adults who use marijuana are ingesting it in a variety of ways for multiple purposes …This and other papers from the same project show growing acceptance of marijuana use for medical purposes by older adults, and a clear desire to have their primary health providers involved in educating them about options and risks.”

Lum concluded:

“From a physician’s standpoint this study shows the need to talk to patients in a non-judgmental way about cannabis … doctors should also educate themselves about the risks and benefits of cannabis and be able to communicate that effectively to patients.”

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