Feb. 24 (UPI) -- More and more older Americans are using marijuana and other cannabis-based products, a new analysis has found.
In research published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, the number of U.S. adults over 65 who reported using cannabis nearly doubled over a three-year period, from 2.4 percent in 2015 to 4.2 percent in 2018 -- an increase of 75 percent.
Many states legalized some forms of the compound during that time, but the authors feel the forces driving this trend are more nuanced.
"We don't think increases in use are due to legalization, although increasing social acceptability in general might have helped drive these increases," co-author Joseph J. Palamar, an associate professor of population health at New York University Langone Medical Center, told UPI. "I think a lot of older people are hearing more and more about potential medical uses and many of these people are willing to try it out to see how it works."
Palamar added that he doesn't believe that many of these older adults "are using for the first time." Earlier studies have found that most users of marijuana or cannabis begin doing so when they are younger.
For their latest research, Palamar and his colleagues reviewed data on adults 65 years of age and older from the four most recent cohorts of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In all, their analysis included cannabis use information on nearly 15,000 respondents, 55 percent of whom were male and 77 percent of whom were white.
In general, they found significant increases in cannabis use among women, as well as among those who were college educated and had higher income levels. They also noted that cannabis use increased across all races and ethnic groups.
Interestingly, much of the increased use appears to have been fueled by potential health benefits associated with the compound.
For example, use of cannabis among older adults with diabetes increased by 180 percent from 2015 to 2018, while it jumped nearly 96 percent among those with other chronic diseases. Cannabis use also increased by more than 150 percent over the three-year study period among those who received mental health treatment.
"People need to make sure they're educated about the drugs they use," Palamar said. "Marijuana is by no means the most dangerous drug, but some people do experience adverse effects from use. If you're an older individual and re-initiating marijuana use, you need to keep in mind that it may be stronger than what you used back in the day, and your body also isn't the same. Older people in particular need to make sure they know what they're doing."