Researchers Focus on Older Adults’ Cannabis Use to Fill Emerging Policy Need

Author  Todd Kluss

Older adults are using cannabis at an unprecedented rate, yet research that informs policymakers on the topic is scarce, according to the latest issue of the journal Public Policy & Aging Report (PP&AR) from The Gerontological Society of America.

Titled “There’s Something Happening Here: Exploring the Evolving Intersection between Cannabis and Older Persons,” the journal highlights existing studies as well as recommended areas for further research.

“We largely remain in the dark regarding many important aspects about this rapidly evolving public health policy issue,” wrote PP&AR Editor-in-Chief Brian Kaskie, PhD, in his introduction. “The United States is entering a period when states continue to operate as cannabis policymaking laboratories, the cannabis economy may grow five-fold, and the older adult population is projected to double.”

Among the five articles that follow, the journal offers insights about a 2017 Academy of Medicine report on cannabis, the negative and positive outcomes experienced by older cannabis users, and the perspectives of health-care providers who increasingly encounter older patients who want to know about cannabis or may already be using it.

“There is an urgent need to provide policy makers, program administrators, and clinicians with empirically based answers to critical questions, such as: Why have some states extended cannabis program eligibility to persons with Alzheimer’s disease, given meager amounts of clinical evidence? Is increasing cannabis use among older adults contributing to increasing cannabis use disorders, co-occurring substance use disorders, or related comorbidities?” Kaskie wrote.

The contents of the new PP&AR:

“There’s Something Happening Here, But What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear,” by Brian Kaskie, PhD

“The 2017 Cannabis Report of the National Academy of Medicine: A Summary of Findings and Directions for Research Addressing Cannabis Use Among Older Persons,” by Robert B. Wallace, MD, MSc

“Potential Harms of Marijuana Use Among Older Adults,” by Namkee G. Choi, PhD, FGSA, Diana M. DiNitto, PhD, and Stephan Arndt, PhD

“The Role of Cannabis in Improving Pain and Symptom Management in End-of-Life Care,” by J. Alton Croker III and Sara Sanders, PhD, MSW, FGSA

“Cannabis as an Alternative to Opioid Use by Older Adults: The Illinois Opioid Alternative Pilot Program,” by Julie Bobitt, PhD, and Conny Mueller Moody

“Medical Cannabis Policy: Considerations for Older Patients and Their Health-Care Providers,” by Kenneth Brummel-Smith, MD, and Freddi Segal-Gidan, PhD

Public Policy & Aging Report is a publication of the National Academy on an Aging Society, the policy branch of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA). As the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging, GSA’s principal mission — and that of its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes an educational branch, the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education.

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