Medical Marijuana Use Among Elderly on the Rise
Marijuana is often associated with recreational use among young people, and viewed as something parents hope their children avoid through the trying teen years. These days, however, one of America’s most popular illicit drugs is now growing in use among the large generation of baby boomers. This generation came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and are now entering their golden years.
Baby Boomers Accepting of Marijuana
From 2002 to 2008, marijuana use among people aged 50 and older went up from 1.9% to 2.9%, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent.
It is expected that the number will increase further as 78 million baby boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many in this age group, there was never a stigma attached as it was for previous generations. Many tried marijuana decades ago.
In Florida, the vote for legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical purposes is approaching in November. Florida would become the 23rd state to approve marijuana use for medical purposes, and most say the senior citizens will be the deciding factor of the outcome.
Elderly Would Benefit Most
Amendment 2, the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, seems to be favored by most senior citizens. Currently, a limited version of the law allows just five nurseries to grow the plant. This makes it extremely difficult for seniors living with arthritis and the additional aches and pains of growing older, and those who have difficulty sleeping. Marijuana, some say, would benefit the elderly population more than any other.
Senior citizens in Florida support the medical use of marijuana, if a doctor prescribes it, according to the Quinnipiac University Poll released in May. They are in favor of the legalization 84% to 13% who are against it. As far as recreational use? They’re against it 61% to 33%.
Marijuana Preferred Over Narcotics for Pain
Many seniors say they would much rather use marijuana over narcotic painkillers that lead to addiction. However, they are up against government agencies and main-stream health groups who feel the medical benefits have not been shown to outweigh the health risks. Still, seniors are finding the effects of marijuana to work wonders for conditions they suffer from. They are willing to risk that when compared to the effects of prescribed narcotics and the side effects they bring.
Shift in Changing the Laws
The number of older users could represent an important shift in changing the laws in America. This older age group is one that is known to vote more often than others. It could be the beginning of an important shift in a decades-long push needed for laws to change.
Older Americans who were not familiar with marijuana, other than its negative connotation, have been long time political opponents of it, viewing it as a dangerous drug. Now, whether they use the drug or are merely beginning to see that it’s not a “big deal”, they are mostly in favor of it as a medical remedy.
For them, the drug is credited with relieving numerous health problems acquired as we grow older, such as:
- Aches and pains
- Macular degeneration
- Chronic pain
- Multiple Sclerosis
Often prescribed pharmaceuticals that carry negative adverse effects, many seniors appreciate the lack of side effects from medical marijuana.
Tough to Get the Drug for Most
14 states now allow medical marijuana, but those living elsewhere must buy or grow the drug illegally, as some of them do. Perry Sparks of North Carolina had tried all kinds of drugs for his crippling pain (Vioxx, epidural steroids, and more). Only when he tried medical marijuana did he say,
“I realized I could get by without the narcotics,” Parks said. “I am essentially pain free.”
With the huge, increasing number of deaths occurring day after day due to narcotic painkiller overdoses, one must wonder,
“How can marijuana be more harmful than these painkillers that not only kill the pain, but kill people?” (Melanie Kross)
We aren’t crystal clear on exactly what the long-term effects of marijuana use might be. But, we do know that the plant has been around for a long time and it’s very rare, if it’s possible at all, for marijuana to take lives like painkillers are today.
Perhaps the baby boomers’ and the elderly’s realization of the benefits that marijuana plant has to offer will turn in the tide in favor of its legalization.
One thing cannot be disputed…There are many people, both young and old, who are experiencing pain free lives for the first time ever. There are many children and adults who rely on the healing properties of marijuana every day. We must fight to make sure they continue to have access to medical marijuana, and continue to live fulfilled lives.