More Baby Boomers are using weed and other cannabis products, and they’re more likely to also smoke, drink alcohol and abuse drugs, researchers reported Thursday.
Nine percent of people aged 50 to 64 said they’ve used marijuana in the past year, which is double the number in the same age group in 2006.
More relaxed attitudes may be encouraging older people to try cannabis, the researchers reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Not surprisingly, those who used marijuana as teens were more likely to say they were still fans of the herb, the team at New York University found.
“Although current users are more likely to be young adults, the Baby Boomer generation is unique as it has had more experience with marijuana compared to any generation preceding them,” NYU’s Dr. Benjamin Han and Dr. Joseph Palamar wrote.
But they were concerned to find that pot smokers were also more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and abuse drugs.
"The baby boomer generation grew up during a period of significant cultural change, including a surge in popularity of marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s,” Han said in a statement.
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“We're now in a new era of changing attitudes around marijuana, and as stigma declines and access improves, it appears that baby boomers — many of whom have prior experience smoking marijuana — are increasingly using it.”
Baby Boomers are generally defined as people born between 1946 and 1964. The over-50 age group also includes some members of the following generation, widely referred to as Generation X.
For their analysis, Han and Palamar used answers to a big national survey from 17,600 adults. Nine percent of them said they’d used marijuana in the past year and nearly 55 percent said they’d tried it at least once in their lives.
Three percent of adults 65 and older said they were current users of marijuana and 22 percent said they’d tried it at least once.
Overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 7.5 percent of people aged 12 or older are current marijuana users, up from 5.8 percent in 2007.
The NYU analysis showed few people were using cannabis products for the first time in middle age.
"Most baby boomers who recently used marijuana first used as teens during the 1960s and 1970s. This doesn't mean these individuals have been smoking marijuana for all these years, but most current users are by no means new initiates," Palamar said.
People were also asked about other habits and there the researchers said they saw some troubling patterns.
“A concerning finding from our study was the higher prevalence of alcohol use disorder, nicotine dependence, cocaine use, and prescription drug misuse among middle-aged and older adults with past-year marijuana use compared to non-past-year users,” they wrote.
Physicians should ask older patients about whether they use marijuana because it can interact with prescription drugs, the team recommended, and it may point to substance abuse problems.
And the survey indicated that users think marijuana is harmless, they said. But it is not.
“Acute adverse effects of marijuana use can include anxiety, dry mouth, tachycardia (racing heart rate), high blood pressure, palpitations, wheezing, confusion, and dizziness,” they wrote.
“Chronic use can lead to chronic respiratory conditions, depression, impaired memory, and reduced bone density.”
Separately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported Thursday that more than 13 percent of young adults who are not attending college or university say they use marijuana nearly every day.
Colorado legalized medical marijuana use in 2010 and made the recreational use of marijuana legal in 2014. Medical cannabis is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., and eight states plus D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and marijuana-derived products.