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Turning to cannabis

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Now that the majority of U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, its use is growing rapidly among people of all ages … and that includes older adults. In fact, a recent poll of older California residents who visited a health clinic found that 15% of them had used cannabis within the past three years. 

Of the 568 older adults included in the survey, conducted by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, those who used cannabis said it was primarily to treat chronic conditions such as pain and sleep disturbances, as well as mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It also found that 61% had used cannabis for the first time after age 60, and about half reported using it regularly. 

Cannabis has been legal in California for medical purposes since 1996, and for recreational use since 2018. 

“New users were more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons than for recreation,” said Kevin Yang, a study co-author 

and medical student at UC San Diego. “The route of cannabis use also differed, with new users more likely to use it topically as a lotion rather than by smoking or ingesting as edibles.”

“Also, they were more likely to inform their doctor about their cannabis use, which reflects that cannabis use is no longer as stigmatized as it was previously,” he added.

Given the rapid rise in availability of CBD-only products – which contain a non-psychoactive cannabinoid without THC and are already available nationwide – the researchers said future surveys will probably continue to document a growing percentage of older adults trying and using cannabis or cannabis-based products for the first time. They claim that it’s time for doctors to catch up with this trend.

“The findings demonstrate the need for (healthcare professionals) to become aware of cannabis use by seniors and to gain awareness of both the benefits and risks of cannabis use in their patient population,” said Alison Moore, M.D., chief of the Division of Geriatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine. 

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