And those numbers are going to go even, well, “higher,” the federal government admits.
“High rates of lifetime drug use among the baby boom generation (persons born between 1946 and 1964), combined with the large size of the cohort, suggest that the number of older adults using drugs will increase in the next two decades,” the government study says.
The NSDUH Report, from 2011, indicated that 6.3 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 59 use cannabis; that number has risen from 2.7 percent in 2002.
Marijuana use was more common than the “non-medical” use of prescription-type drugs both for adults 50-54 (6.1 vs. 3.4 percent) and those aged 55-59 (4.1 vs. 3.2 percent). This shouldn’t come as a great surprise; after all, it stands to reason that folks this age, with a wealth of life experiences on which to base decisions, would make safer choices.
Marijuana use, in fact, was more common than non-medical use of prescription drugs among all males over 50 (4.2 percent vs. 2.3 percent). Among females, the rates of marijuana use and non-medical use of prescription drugs were very similar (1.7 and 1.9 percent).
But conventional wisdom still holds sway on the oldsters over 65, who prefer popping their pills. Non-medical use of prescription drugs was more common than marijuana use among those over 65 (0.8 percent vs. 0.4 percent).
Among men 50 to 54, nearly one in 10 admitted to having smoked marijuana within the past year. Among males 50 to 60, more than four percent said they’d used cannabis.Among females 50 to 54, four percent admitted having used pot in the previous year.
Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said he started consuming marijuana about two years ago with his grandparents, Helen and Leo Shuller, who are 82 and 88, reports Alyson Krueger of The New York Times. They “have a little bit off the vaporizer,” Tvert said, either before of after dinner.
Mr. and Mrs. Shuller made it clear that they use marijuana with their family only when they are in states where it is decriminalized or legal for medical rasons. “That’s maybe something they would find troubling,” Tvert said. “To break the law.”
Those who have moved on from corporate work might now feel more comfortable revealing and sharing their marijuana use, according to Cher Neufer, 65, a retired teacher who said socializing with her friends means using cannabis.“Most of us are either retiring or retired,” Neufer said. “You don’t have to worry about your job knowing, so it’s a little easier for us. I don’t care if you use my name; I don’t care if they know!”
Another factor is that most seniors are empty nesters, no longer worried about setting an example for their children. Many grandparents “are at a stage in their life where it doesn’t make any difference,” said Diane-Marie Williams, executive director of administration at Moms For Marijuana International, who is a grandmother herself.
“They’ve raised their families, they’ve done their careers, and at this point I think they are saying, ‘OK, I’m not jeopardizing my family,” Williams said.
“All of my friends are as educated on the subject as I am, and if they aren’t, I keep trying to make them,” said Vickie Hoffman, 46, a grandmother of three and former bartender who is organizing the Missouri chapter of Moms For Marijuana International. Hoffman, who has Crohn’s disease and other medical challenges, said she barely has the energy to socialize without cannabis.“Me getting around is a little bit rough,” she said. But after using marijuana, “I can do more things. We play croquet. We do things out in the yard, and if I don’t have it I can barely walk across the floor. It’s a big pick-me-up.”
“While the federal government refuses to acknowledge that marijuana has a legitimate role as a medicine, in particular one that can offset many of the symptoms and conditions associated with aging, it is nevertheless apparent that a growing percentage of the public — and older Americans, especially — are becoming increasingly aware of this plant’s safety and efficacy,” said Paul Armentano, deputy directory of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
The numbers come from survey data compiled by the United States Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (the NSDUH Report).