A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine said the share of adults 65 and older using marijuana in the previous year has rocketed from 2.4 percent in 2015 to 4.2 percent in 2018, a leap of 75 percent over that time frame. And, the numbers are more startling given the rate of use for seniors was not even half of 1 percent in 2006, researchers said.

Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine and the New York University College of Global Public Health reviewed trends in cannabis use among 14,896 adults aged 65 years and older. The findings of the article, titled, “Trends in Cannabis Use Among Older Adults in the United States, 2015-2018,” come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health during 2015 to 2018.

The relaxation of laws criminalizing marijuana use across the country for both medical and recreational purposes is one significant factor for the increased usage, as are the more relaxed attitudes of aging baby boomers to marijuana, the study said. The purpose of the study was to examine the most recent national trends in cannabis use to determine whether it has continued to increase among older adults and to further examine trends in use among subgroups of older adults.

Digging into the numbers, the report said the climb in marijuana use was fueled in part by older women who saw their frequency of cannabis use go from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent in the 2015 to 2018 period. This marks a 93 percent rise.

Seniors on the male side experienced a smaller but still sharp 58 percent rise in usage, from 3.6 percent to 5.7 percent for the study’s time frame.  

Racial factors are also examined in the report, with researchers finding the traditional “older white people are more likely to use cannabis” trend no longer true.

Older white people in 2015 used marijuana at a proportion of 2.8 percent in 2015, compared with 1.5 percent for other races and ethnic groups. But, the report said by 2018 that gap had evaporated, with 4.0 percent of older whites using versus 4.8 percent for other races, a whopping 336 percent rise for the non-Caucasian cohort.

According to the report, “Older adults are especially vulnerable to potential adverse effects from cannabis, and with their increase in cannabis use, there is an urgent need to better understand both the benefits and risks of cannabis use in this population.”

Another finding in the report said for the 2015 to 2018 period, marijuana use for older married people rose at twice the rate than that seen for older unmarried individuals.

Chronic medical conditions also have played a role in the increase of cannabis use, with researchers pointing to a 180 percent increase for those seniors with diabetes (measured from 2015 to 2018). Read the report online at www.jamanetwork.com.