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Study advises healthcare professionals to screen over-50s for cannabis use

Healthcare professionals should engage older adults in cannabis discussions given that some people are using weed to self-treat different conditions without first seeking medical input or advice, suggests a new U.S. study.

Published online this week in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, investigators from the University of Texas at Austin explored the health-related characteristics, cannabis use patterns and marijuana sources of medical and non-medical weed users 50 and older.

 
 
 

The initial thought was medical users are more likely than non-medical users to have physical and mental health problems, use healthcare services, discuss their drug use with a healthcare professional and use weed more frequently. To see if that was, indeed, the case, researchers looked at 17,685 people based on data from the 2018 and 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The study determined the rate of past-year cannabis use was 8.9 per cent, 18.5 per cent of whom reported medical use, notes the study. Medical use sought to address, among other conditions, chronic pain, depression and arthritis.

Medical use of cannabis was associated with lower odds of alcohol use disorder, but higher odds of discussing drug use with healthcare professionals (four times higher than recreational users) and buying cannabis at a dispensary.

About 20 per cent of those using cannabis for health reasons buy it at medical weed dispensaries compared to just five per cent of recreational users, notes a statement detailing study results. That means many older adults are getting their cannabis and cannabis products from unregulated sources.



Elderly woman with a cane

Cannabis use among older U.S. adults more than doubled from 2008 to 2019, including using the plant to relieve pain and treat health issues. / PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Cannabis use among older U.S. adults more than doubled from 2008 to 2019, the statement notes, including using the plant to relieve pain and treat health issues. Authors suggest the new findings “have significant clinical and policy implications, especially as more U.S. states are legalizing cannabis, which is leading to a rapid rise in uptake among older people,” the statement adds.

Overall, “medical and non-medical users did not differ on physical and most behavioural health indicators,” the authors write in the study abstract. That said, “some medical users are likely to self-treat without healthcare professional consultation,” they note, recommending that those professionals engage older adults in discussions about cannabis use and behavioural health needs.

That engagement would include routinely screening older people for use of cannabis and other substances, checking said users for mental health problems and recommending treatment when necessary, notes the statement.


Healthcare professional engagement would include screening older people for use of cannabis and other substances, checking said users for mental health problems and recommending treatment when necessary. /

Healthcare professional engagement would include screening older people for use of cannabis and other substances, checking said users for mental health problems and recommending treatment when necessary. / PHOTO BY SUPPLIED

Additionally, medical cannabis users were more likely to consume the drug frequently, with 40 per cent reporting using it from 200 to 365 days a year.

A study last year from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that of the 568 patients aged 65 and older, 15 per cent had used cannabis within the past three years. As well, 53 per cent said they use weed regularly on a daily or weekly basis, and 46 per cent reported using CBD-only products.

And a BDS Analytics report from a few years back indicated that Baby Boomers have become an “important and growing segment” of cannabis consumers.

“Given the increase in THC potency, healthcare professionals should educate older cannabis users, especially high-frequency users, on potential safety issues and adverse effects,” study co-author Namkee Choi says in the statement. For their part, “all older people who take cannabis should consult healthcare professionals about their use,” Choi recommends.

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