When you think about baby boomers and drugs, it's easy to imagine the anti-drug PSA's of the 1980s or Nancy Reagan telling the worldto "just say no." As hard as it is to imagine your grandparents, or even parents smoking weed — new research claims old people are getting higher than ever before.
The study, published in the Society for the Study of Addiction in October, examined the cannabis use of over 47,000 men and women over the age of 50. When looking at the data, which was gathered from surveys conducted between 2006-2013, researchers saw a 50 percent increase in cannabis use in adults aged 50-64 and a whopping 250 percent increase in use in adults older than 64. According to the study's conclusion, their findings "dispel the myth that older adults do not use recreational drugs," and also raise safety concerns in older people who may be getting high.
Most of the participants in the study had tried or used cannabis as adolescents and young adults, so for many getting high wasn't exactly a new habit. Still, comparing results from two different surveys done in 2006/07 and 2012/13, researchers found a 71 percent increase in cannabis use in individuals age 50 and over. As for other drugs apart from marijuana, drug use in older adults increased 17 percent. Senior author of the study and and research affiliate at the NYU Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, Joseph Palamar, told Broadly that the results ultimately highlight a change in attitudes toward marijuana. "We found that only five percent felt it was a great risk to their health; I thought it would be much different," he said. This also surprised Palamar because of the strong anti-drug sentiment of the 80s and 90s. "In the 80s, we were taught that drugs were morally wrong or that you will die if you try them, so I think of elders as being strongly against all drugs, including marijuana."
Palamar advocates strongly for looking at drugs through the lense of health, and notes that there may be some safety concerns with older adults returning to the cannabis of their youth. "Mostly, [participants of the survey] started prior to being older, and many may have stopped and restarted," Palamar said, arguing that older adults should use caution if taking up smoking weed at a later age because potency may have changed. "You can't just think, 'I did this 20 years ago, I can do it now.' If you were used to smoking weed when it was weaker, this could knock [you] over."
Still, the survey results ultimately suggest that marijuana use has been normalized more among older generations than many previously believed. As some participants reported that they rely on cannabis products to relieve symptoms of illnesses, authors of the study believe this could open the door to more research on how marijuana could help older generations cope with side effects of chronic and geriatric conditions.