By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
A growing number of older adults have discovered the medical benefits of cannabis – everything from pain relief to lower blood pressure. But a new study found that most older Americans aren’t telling their doctors about their cannabis use.
In an analysis of over 17,000 Americans aged 50 and older who participated in the 2018 and 2019 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that nearly nine percent had used cannabis in the past year. Of those, less than 40% had discussed their cannabis use with a healthcare provider.
Researchers say that’s an alarming figure because the cannabis users were significantly more likely to have substance abuse and mental health problems than nonusers.
“Only a minority of older cannabis users discussed their drug use with a healthcare professional, although medical users were more likely than nonmedical users to have done so,” said lead author Namkee Choi, PhD, Professor of Gerontology at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Given little difference in cannabis and other substance use/use disorders between nonmedical and medical users, older cannabis users, regardless of use reasons, should consult healthcare professionals about their use, and healthcare professionals should screen for cannabis and other substance use as part of routine care.”
Compared to recreational users, medical users consumed cannabis more frequently, with nearly 40% using it everyday or a few times each week. Surprisingly, less than 20% of medical users bought their cannabis from a dispensary; most obtained it from friends, family or strangers. About 95% of medical users said obtaining cannabis was fairly easy or very easy.
“The finding that a significant proportion of medical and nonmedical users obtained cannabis via private/informal sources indicates that they are likely to use cannabis and cannabis products with unknown tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency,” said Choi. “Given the increase in THC potency, healthcare professionals should educate older cannabis users, especially high-frequency users, on potential safety issues and adverse health effects of cannabis and cannabis products obtained from unregulated sources.”
The study findings were published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
A 2018 survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that most older Americans think marijuana is effective for pain relief, anxiety and nausea. Seventy percent of those surveyed say they would consider asking their healthcare provider about medical marijuana if they had a serious condition that they thought might respond to it.
A recent study published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found that older adults are more likely to purchase sublingual formulations of cannabis, such as edibles and tinctures, as well as products low in THC and high in CBD.