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More Seniors Are Using Marijuana and It May Decrease Their Opioid Use

Usage is surging among seniors looking for alternatives to prescription painkillers but research faces many legal barriers.

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The U.S. population is aging, which means a growing percentage of Americans are experiencing the aches and pains that come with the senior years. Apparently, many have found a way of managing those aches and pains: marijuana.

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Using cannabis for pain relief is a growing trend among seniors. The New York Times recently reported that “older Americans are flocking to marijuana.” They interviewed a 66-year-old Orange County, Calif., resident who uses a salve containing cannabidiol (CBD) on an aching toe she broke decades ago. She also said she smokes a little weed in the evening because “relaxing is healthy for you.”

Related: 5 Ways Hemp Is a Boon for Health

Seniors are a huge market.

Seniors are a growing market for cannabis producers, thanks to the post-World War II generation of Baby Boomers. That giant generation born between 1946 and 1964 gave us hippies in one era and yuppies in another. Now, as they enter their golden years, they are giving us the first generation of senior marijuana users -- and there are many, many of them.

Wrap your head around these numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • By 2035, there will be more Americans over 65 (78 million) than kids under 18 (76.7 million)
  • The ratio of working adults to older adults will drop from 3.5 workers for every senior in 2020 to 2.5 per senior by 2060.
  • The median age of Americans right now is 38. By 2060, it will be 43.

To look at it another way, the percentage of the population over 65 will grow from 15 percent now to about 24 percent by 2026, according to the Population Reference Bureau.

California dispensary Bud and Bloom understands the opportunity. The business charters a bus to transport seniors to its Santa Ana store, according to the Times. These older customers get a catered lunch and a senior discount on their cannabis purchases.

Related: Silver Lining: Mature Cannabis Consumers Are a Fast Growing Market

How seniors use weed.

A study released last year based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that marijuana use among seniors had doubled between 2013 and 2016, from 1.4 percent of seniors to 3 percent.

Those percentages remain small. But it’s easy to expect them to grow given the spread of legalization throughout the country. A study from University of Florida researchers reported that physicians anticipate an increase in seniors use of cannabis. The report also stated that “those 65 years or older had the greatest increase in marijuana use in the older adult population.”

Does cannabis help seniors? The University of Florida study urged more research, something that is difficult in the United States because cannabis remains a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level. However, a study published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine by Israeli researchers found that 93.7 percent of patients reported improvement after six months of cannabis treatment. Significantly, use of cannabis also lessened use of opioid medication for pain.

The two most common reasons for seniors using cannabis were cancer-related issues and chronic pain, the study found.

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