- As cannabis products become more accessible, and norms against them ease, there is increased use by seniors.
- Unlike older adults, seniors in their 60s and 70s have more positive attitudes toward marijuana use.
- Most users are those who are open to experiences and risk-takers.
In the past dozen years, as more and more states have legalized recreational marijuana, the fastest-growing segment of the population using pot is not high school or college students but senior citizens. The percentage of over-65 U.S. residents who are using marijuana has tripled from about 10 percent in the early days of pot legalization to nearly one-third of senior citizens in recent years. Why?
Here are five psychologically-based reasons:
- Nostalgia and Early Life Experiences. Unlike members of the “Silent Generation,” seniors in their 80s and 90s, the Baby Boomers—seniors (or near senior citizens) in their 60s and 70s—grew up in an age where experimentation with mind-altering substances, like marijuana, was common. Where the previous generation saw drug use, such as smoking marijuana, as dangerous, many Boomers thought pot smoking was “cool.” A substantial portion of members of the Boomer generation decided to revisit their youth and try marijuana again.
- Openness to Experiences and Risk-Taking. In all likelihood, most of the seniors who are using marijuana are the types of individuals who are open to trying new and somewhat risky experiences. A good portion of seniors are still wary of cannabis use because they believe that it is dangerous. So, even though marijuana use is on the rise among seniors, it is unlikely that a majority of elders will ever be getting high.
- Shift From Recreational Use to Medicinal. A good proportion of the seniors who are using now-legal marijuana are not doing it to get high but for medicinal purposes—to relieve aches and pains, to induce sleep, and to relieve stress or anxiety. As one Baby Boomer said, “I’ve been using marijuana for years to help deal with insomnia. It’s nice that it’s legal now, and I can also use it occasionally recreationally just to ‘escape.’”
- The Bandwagon Effect. As more and more states legalize the use of recreational marijuana, some elders, including those who may not have used marijuana in their youth, are being swept up in what appears to be a mass movement toward this newly legalized intoxicant. I know of several seniors who had never tried marijuana but were influenced by the fact that so many of their friends were now using pot: the old “bandwagon effect.”
- Ease of Acquisition and Use. A good proportion of people, including seniors, didn’t ever try or use marijuana because it was illegal, and obtaining pot required interacting with some shady suppliers. Today, in many states, cannabis products are legal and easily available through dispensaries, mail order, and even home delivery. This eliminates some of the barriers to using marijuana. What’s more, some early users of marijuana were turned off by the dangers of smoking it, given that they grew up in a “smoking causes cancer” environment. But, today, with edible cannabis products, the stigma of smoking pot can be avoided, leading to some seniors who would never smoke anything now being OK with ingesting a little bit of marijuana.
Siddiqui, S. A., Singh, P., Khan, S., Fernando, I., Baklanov, I. S., Ambartsumov, T. G., & Ibrahim, S. A. (2022). Cultural, Social and Psychological Factors of the Conservative Consumer towards Legal Cannabis Use—A Review since 2013. Sustainability, 14(17), 10993.
Mahvan, T. D., Hilaire, M. L., Mann, A., Brown, A., Linn, B., Gardner, T., & Lai, B. (2017). Marijuana use in the elderly: implications and considerations. The Consultant Pharmacist®, 32(6), 341-351.