February 22, 2010
Marijuana Use On The Rise With Baby Boomers
A new study reveals that a growing trend among the baby boomer generation is to take part in the country's most popular illicit drug.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said people born in the 1960s and 1970s that reported using marijuana went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent in just six years.
The most dramatic rise was between the age range of 55 to 59-years-old, in which the use of the drug tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent in 2008.
Researchers believe that as the 78 million boomers age, there will be further increases.
Some started using it for recreation or as a way to cope with the aches and pains of getting older, while others never stopped using it.
Political advocates for legalizing marijuana say the number of elderly users may represent an important push to change the laws on the substance.
"For the longest time, our political opponents were older Americans who were not familiar with marijuana and had lived through the 'Reefer Madness' mentality and they considered marijuana a very dangerous drug," Keith Stroup, the founder and lawyer of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, told the Associated Press.
"Now, whether they resume the habit of smoking or whether they simply understand that it's no big deal and that it shouldn't be a crime, in large numbers they're on our side of the issue."
Stroup says that every night he sits down to the evening news, pours himself a glass of wine and rolls a joint. The 66-year-old has used the drug since he was a freshman at Georgetown, but many older adults are revisiting the drug after years of not partaking in it.
"The kids are grown, they're out of school, you've got time on your hands and frankly it's a time when you can really enjoy marijuana," Stroup said. "Food tastes better, music sounds better, sex is more enjoyable."
Marijuana is credited to help with aches and pains, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other age related problems. So far, 14 states have passed laws to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but those living in other states have to rely on the drug illegally.
However, there are risks of health problems from aging that can be exacerbated by the regular use of marijuana.
Dr. William Dale, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center, told AP that older users might be at risk for falls if they become dizzy. He also said smoking it increases the risk of heart disease and it can cause cognitive impairment.
He said he'd caution using it even if a patient cites benefits.
"There are other better ways to achieve the same effects," he todl the news agency.
The director of applied studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Pete Delany, said boomers' drug use defied stereotypes, but is important to address.
"When you think about people who are 50 and older you don't generally think of them as using illicit drugs "” the occasional Hunter Thompson or the kind of hippie dippie guy that gets a lot of press maybe," he told AP. "As a nation, it's important to us to say, 'It's not just young people using drugs it's older people using drugs.'"
Older marijuana smokers say that they prefer to smoke in privately. They also said the quality and price of the drug has increased substantially since their youth.