According to a National Poll on Healthy Aging, few older adults use medical marijuana, but the majority support its use if a doctor recommends it and might talk to their own doctor about it if they developed a serious health condition.
Four out of five poll respondents between the ages of 50 and 80 said they support allowing medical marijuana if it’s recommended by a physician. Forty percent support allowing marijuana use for any reason.
Two-thirds say the government should do more to study the drug’s health effects, according to the new poll.
While more than two-thirds of those polled said they thought that marijuana can ease pain, about half said they believed prescription pain medications were more effective than marijuana.
The poll was conducted in a nationally representative sample of 2,007 Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 by the University of Michigan (U-M) Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. It was sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.
“While just 6 percent of our poll respondents said they’d used marijuana for medical purposes themselves, 18 percent said they know someone who has,” said U-M’s Preeti Malani, MD, director of the poll and a specialist in treatment of older patients. “With medical marijuana already legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and other states considering legalizing this use or all use, this is an issue of interest to patients, providers, and policymakers alike.”
She notes that the poll results indicate older Americans have a sense of wariness, rather than wholehearted acceptance, around medical use of marijuana. This may be surprising to those who think of the Baby Boom generation—who are now in their mid-50s to early 70s—as embracing marijuana use in their youth in the 1960s and 1970s.
Marijuana and Pain
The poll sheds new light on older Americans’ attitudes toward the use of marijuana to control pain—one of the most common conditions cited in state medical marijuana statutes. Just under one-third of respondents said they feel that marijuana definitely provides pain relief, and another 38 percent said it probably does. But only 14 percent thought marijuana was more effective than prescription pain medication, while 48 percent believed the opposite and 38 percent believed the two were equally effective. When it came to controlling dosages for pain relief, though, prescription pain medicine won out: 41 percent thought it would be easier to control dosage with medication.
The poll also asked respondents about negative effects of both substances. In all, 48 percent thought prescription pain medicines are more addictive than marijuana, and 57 said that such medicines have more side effects than marijuana.
“These perceptions of relative safety and efficacy are important for physicians, other providers, and public health regulators to understand,” said Malani. Marijuana use, particularly long-term use, has been associated with impaired memory, decision making, and ability to perform complex tasks.
The widespread support by older Americans for more research on the effects of marijuana is especially significant, she said, given the growing legalization trend in states and the continued federal policy that marijuana use is illegal.
“Although older adults may be a bit wary about marijuana, the majority support more research on it,” said Alison Bryant, PhD, senior vice president of research for AARP. “This openness to more research likely speaks to a desire to find safe, alternative treatments to control pain.”
For more information, visit www.healthyagingpoll.org.
This article was adapted from information provided by Michigan Medicine – U-M.