The oldest age group — seniors age 65 and older — has seen steep increases in marijuana use, as well. In the mid-2000s, monthly marijuana use among this group was effectively at zero percent. As of last year, 2.4 percent of seniors used marijuana monthly, and nearly 4 percent were using on at least an annual basis.
Federal data showed that marijuana use among middle-aged Americans surpassed teen use several years ago, which underscores a point that often gets lost in contemporary debate about marijuana legalization: While debates about marijuana use tend to focus on the drug’s effects on young people, marijuana use is becoming more concentrated among older Americans. The effects of long-term marijuana use among that cohort are less understood.
There are a number of factors driving these trends. Nine states plus the District have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use since 2012. It’s only natural that those laws would boost use among older Americans while having little effect among younger ones.
On net, grandparents smoking state-legal weed in their homes is much less of a legal or public-health concern than teens using black market stuff at parties. But as with any recreational drug there are risks associated with marijuana use, even if the user is over the age of 60. The Han/Palamar study, for instance, found evidence for higher rates of nicotine dependence, cocaine use and prescription drug misuse among older Americans who had used marijuana in the past year. And dependency is always a concern, particularly among people who use marijuana frequently.
That said, it’s becoming increasingly clear that stereotypes of marijuana users as risk-taking disaffected youth are outdated in the era of legal marijuana, with middle-aged and even older Americans becoming more likely to use the drug than their children and grandchildren.