The Times Are a-Changin’: Boomers’ Increasing Cannabis Use
Not too long ago, cannabis was Public Enemy #1, especially for Baby Boomers brought up on a steady diet of strident—and often misleading—anti-drug rhetoric. Today, the scene couldn’t be more different. More than any other group of Americans, it’s Boomers who are flocking to cannabis, starting pot clubs in senior living facilities, sharing tips on best strains and intake methods, and making cannabis use an essential part of their self-care regimens.
What happened to change the landscape so quickly, and what are some of the ways Boomers are taking advantage of the cannabis plant’s medicinal properties? Let’s explore the fascinating intersection of cannabis use and an aging America.
Boomers and Cannabis Use: A Sea Change
When the Green Wave of cannabis legalization first began to gather strength, its advocates faced a quandary: Even though medical marijuana is tailor-made for many of the symptoms and chronic conditions that plague older populations—joint inflammation and pain, insomnia, muscle spasms and decreased appetite, for a start—many Boomers viewed it skeptically at best.
While some came of age in the counterculture movements of the 1960s, many more were brought up in an age of hysterical anti-pot messaging. For this large segment of the population, the loosening of these taboos brought about by legalization has had a profound effect. No longer concerned with the (largely inflated) threats their believed cannabis use posed to their health, enjoying increased free time post-retirement and grappling with the natural side-effects of aging, Boomers have leapt to the very forefront of cannabis adopters. According to a CBS News poll, cannabis use among seniors rose some 53% between 2013 and 2014.
Boomers and Cannabis Use: A Better Tool to Address Serious Symptoms
Although some seniors support cannabis for recreational use, the majority focus solely on its medical use. In a nation struggling to come to terms with an epidemic of opioid addiction, it’s a particularly sensitive and timely issue for those 55 and older: While they account for roughly 14% of the population, seniors account for some 30% of all prescription drug use.
A growing crop of studies supports the use of cannabis for pain and inflammation. Compared with highly addictive and expensive opioids, cannabis is an inarguably safer and gentler alternative. Because many cannabinoids and terpenes—the “active ingredients” in cannabis—have broad anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis is an effective treatment for several types of pain, including nociceptive, neuropathic and central pain.
After relief from pain and inflammation, the second reason many seniors turn to cannabis is for relief from insomnia. Already relatively common among the general population, sleeplessness affects seniors disproportionately. Especially as many over-the-counter and prescription options are ineffective, costly and potentially habit-forming, cannabis is an objectively safer alternative.
Boomers and Cannabis Use: Increased Medical Benefits, Reduced Psychoactivity
There’s one other factor empowering seniors’ turn towards cannabis: The rise of CBD. As interest in the therapeutic properties of the second major cannabinoid grows, an increasing number of high-CBD cannabis products is hitting the shelves. While it’s associated with a number of medical benefits, including the ability to help treat anxiety, some types of seizures and pain, CBD doesn’t impart the psychoactivity—or “high”—of THC, the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis. For many of us, especially seniors, the promise of cannabis with reduced psychoactivity is especially appealing.