A University of Michigan study has found more older Americans were consuming cannabis products containing THC than prior to the pandemic.
The University’s National Poll on Healthy Aging asked U.S. adults ages 50–80 in January 2021 about their cannabis use in the past year, which coincided with the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey found 12.1% of the 2,023 participants reported cannabis use in the prior twelve months compared to 9.5% in 2019 and just 3% in 2006, when only 12 states had passed medical cannabis laws.
In the cannabis use group, 34.2% reported using cannabis products 4 or more days per week. Use was more likely among unmarried/unpartnered and unemployed respondents, and those who consumed alcohol. As for the reasons for use, that wasn’t clear as the poll didn’t differentiate between medical and recreational.
Perhaps cannabis product use would have been higher as the poll question only related to those containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the major intoxicating component of cannabis. It didn’t include other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), the popularity of which has skyrocketed in recent years.
Study lead Anne Fernandez Ph.D., an addiction psychologist in the U-M Addiction Center and Department of Psychiatry, said the results raise some concerns – particularly with regard to those who also consumed alcohol. Among the concerns with this group are an increased likelihood a person will drive while impaired.
“They are also more likely to have physical and mental health issues, including substance use disorders,” said Dr. Fernandez.
Another issue is other medications a person might be taking – a situation more likely as a person ages. Products containing cannabinoids may have impacts on the effects of some conventional prescription drugs.
It’s for these reason Dr. Fernandez advises older adults who use cannabis products to be open with their health care provider about their consumption, particularly if they also drink alcohol or take certain medications.
The researchers concluded:
“As access to and use of cannabis continue to increase nationally, clinicians and policymakers should monitor and address the potential risks among older adults.”
The study has been published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.