NYU Study Finds Increasing Cannabis Use Among Boomers

An NYU Langone study has found increased use of cannabis in people aged 65 and older, raising questions surrounding the legality and need to expand research on the issue, according to an NYU Langone researcher.

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A woman holds a joint in a Brooklyn apartment. Cannabis use is on the rise among people ages 65 and over. (Staff Photo by Alina Patrick).

By Dylan Wahbe, Contributing Writer

Cannabis use is increasing among people 65 years and older, according to an NYU Langone study released last week.

Dr. Benjamin Han — the study’s lead researcher — found that cannabis consumption among the elderly increased by 75% between 2015 and 2018. The study examined self-reported results from a sample size of a little under 15,000 people 65 years and older. The study also found that there was a drastic increase in cannabis consumption among the same demographic between 2006 and 2018 from 0.4% to 4.2%. 

Dr. Han is a geriatrician and health services researcher who specializes in substance use among older adults. He said the study was prompted by an increasing number of questions about marijuana from his patients.

The increased interest could be attributed to recent debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana. Recreational and medicinal marijuana is legalized in 11 states for adults over the age of 21, and 26 states have approved some form of decriminalization. Dr. Han himself supports the federal legalization of marijuana.

“I am strongly in favor of the legalization of cannabis both for medical and recreational use,” Dr. Han said. “This would help us better study the risks and benefits of cannabis use for specific chronic diseases or symptoms. Given the lack of studies in this area, we need to build the evidence-base in order to best counsel our patients on its use.”

Dr. Han disagreed with the classification of cannabis as a schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The scheduling system ranks drugs primarily factoring in acceptable medical use and risk of abuse. Heroin is a schedule 1 narcotic along with cannabis, while cocaine and meth are designated schedule 2.

“Because [cannabis] is still inappropriately a schedule 1 drug that makes it difficult to study in this country,” Dr. Han said. “That being said, from the limited studies, many done in other countries, there does seem to be some proven benefits for specific patients.”

Dr. Han’s study found no conclusive evidence to suggest that the increase in cannabis consumption was solely for medicinal use or recreational purposes. The study also showed that the legalization of cannabis in certain states does not necessarily result in increased use of the drug in those states.

CAS sophomore Sarah John echoed Dr. Han’s sentiment by saying that she is in favor of legalizing marijuana.

“I think it’s pretty ridiculous to penalize people for smoking weed,” John said. “I don’t think it benefits anyone.” 

She pointed out that older adults with chronic pain may be using marijuana as a way to manage their pain.

“I think specifically it being legalized for medicinal purposes a lot of elderly people are looking for more natural ways to relieve their pain,” John said.

Gallatin sophomore Isaac Burns pointed out the economic benefit of legalizing marijuana. He believes the money made by the government could be used to provide for people of color who have been disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana.

“It promotes healthier economic spending, especially because a lot of the tax money [the government] can take from it [could be] put into education and systematic well-being for people who have been subjugated because of the color of their skin and their interaction with marijuana,” Burns said.

Disclaimer: Sarah John was a Deputy Opinion Editor in spring 2019.

Email Dylan Wahbe at [email protected]