A University of California San Diego School of Medicine report has found cannabis use is becoming more common among older adults in the US.
The older cohort used cannabis primarily for medical purposes to treat a variety of common health conditions, including pain, sleep disturbances and psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression, with 61 per cent of study participants starting cannabis use after age 60.
The study, published online October 7, 2020 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that of 568 patients surveyed, 15 percent had used cannabis within the past three years, with half of users reporting using it regularly and mostly for medical purposes. Patients were surveyed over 10 weeks at the Medicine for Seniors Clinic at UC San Diego Health.
Study co-author and assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego, Christopher Kaufmann, PhD, said: “Pain, insomnia and anxiety were the most common reasons for cannabis use and, for the most part, patients reported that cannabis was helping to address these issues, especially with insomnia and pain.”
The study also found that new users were more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons than for recreation. The method of use also differed, with new users more likely to use it topically as a lotion rather than by smoking or ingesting as edibles.
Given the rise in availability of CBD-only products the researchers said it is likely that future surveys will continue to document a larger proportion of older adults using cannabis or cannabis-based products for the first time.
Alison Moore, MD, senior author and chief of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said: ”The findings demonstrate the need for the clinical workforce 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.
“Given the prevalence of use, it may be important to incorporate evidence-backed information about cannabis use into medical school and use screening questions about cannabis as a regular part of clinic visits,” said Moore.
The researchers said that there seems to be potential with cannabis, but that they need more evidence-based research.
Kaufmann said: “We want to find out how cannabis compares to current medications available. Could cannabis be a safer alternative to treatments, such as opioids and benzodiazepines? Could cannabis help reduce the simultaneous use of multiple medications in older persons? We want to find out which conditions cannabis is most effective in treating. Only then can we better counsel older adults on cannabis use.”