A study by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported that older adults use cannabis primarily for medical purposes to treat a variety of common conditions, including pain, sleep disturbances, and psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The study found that of 568 patients surveyed, 15% had used cannabis within the past 3 years, with half of the users reporting using it regularly and mostly for medical purposes. Patients who were surveyed in the study were seen at the Medicine for Seniors Clinic at UC San Diego Health over a period of 10 weeks, according to the study authors.

“Surprisingly, we found that nearly three-fifths of cannabis users reported using cannabis for the first time as older adults. These individuals were a unique group compared to those who used cannabis in the past,” said co-first author Kevin Yang, third-year medical student at UC San Diego, in a press release.

Yang added that new users were more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons than for recreation and were more likely to use cannabis topically as a lotion rather than by smoking or ingesting as edibles. Further, new users were more likely to inform their physician about their cannabis use, which reflects that cannabis use is no longer as stigmatized as it was previously, according to the study.

The researchers noted that it is likely that future surveys will continue to document a larger proportion of older adults using cannabis or cannabis-based products for the first time.

“The findings demonstrate the need for the clinical workforce to become aware of cannabis use by seniors and to gain awareness of both the benefits and risks of cannabis use in their patient population,” said senior author Alison Moore, MD, chief of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, in a press release. “Given the prevalence of use, it may be important to incorporate evidence-backed information about cannabis use into medical school and use screening questions about cannabis as a regular part of clinic visits.”

Future studies are suggested to better understand the efficacy and safety of different formulations of cannabis in treating common conditions in older adults, both to maximize benefit and minimize harm, according to the study authors.

Study finds older adults using cannabis to treat common health conditions. UC San Diego Health. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2020-10-07-study-finds-older-adults-using-cannabis-to-treat-common-health-conditions.aspx. Published October 7, 2020. Accessed October 8, 2020.