Contributor: Missy Matheny
Once considered the pioneers for the legalization of marijuana, Boomers are now one of the fastest growing demographics for both medical and recreational cannabis sales. Recent studies by the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal, The University of Colorado, and New York University, show that marijuana use has more than doubled in adults aged 50-64 years old in the last decade. Specifically, with those aged 65 and over seeing an increase of almost seven times the rate of use from ten years ago (Source: Sciendaily.com, Washingtonpost.com, Time.com).
So why are Boomers turning to marijuana at a rate usually seen in teenagers?
The Boomer generation grew up in a time of massive cultural change, with a more accepting view of marijuana use. In a study from 2016 by Drug and Alcohol Dependence, most Boomers who report using marijuana in the past year also report use in their younger years, with over 90% of adults aged 50-64 who currently use marijuana saying they tried it before they were 21 (Source: Sciencedaily.com). In addition to this, 15% of those aged 50-64, and over 20% aged 65 and over, report that marijuana was recommended by a doctor.
It appears that previous familiarity with marijuana use is a major factor with the Boomers who currently use cannabis both medically and recreationally.
Marijuana is commonly used to treat chronic pain, and with older age groups having a higher rate of chronic pain, it seems almost natural that cannabis use would be higher in the demographics that suffer from these ailments. Previous options for pain management primarily consisted of opioids, and with the current issues surrounding these prescription pills, Boomers want a better option. It might even be working.
Studies Reveal “Boomers” Are Smoking More Marijuana Than Ever Before
Studies have shown that states with medical marijuana also have an almost 6% lower rate of opioid prescriptions (Source: Health.Harvard.edu). However, there is still a lot of research needed on marijuana as a form of medicine, and the effects of cannabis use, especially long term. But, even taking that into consideration, some researchers see it as a promising sign.
Boomers are commonly using edibles, topicals, and other alternative forms of the flower, so they can control the dosage easier. Boomers seem more inclined to choose lower THC levels (Source: GreenEntrepreneur.com). They are looking for help with their ailments, they aren’t really trying to get high. This is helping to fuel the CBD movement, as Boomers are looking for alternatives to their prescription medication, and the side effects that can come along with them.
With this demand for better choices in medicine, Boomers are also pushing for more acceptance in the medical community, and from their doctors, as they use marijuana to treat chronic pain, combat chemotherapy side effects, deal with depression and anxiety that is common in the elderly, and the myriad of other ailments that accompany aging.
There is still a lot of stigma that can be faced from doctors when a patient asks about using marijuana to treat illnesses, and a lot of Boomers can be hesitant about even discussing the use of cannabis as medicine (Source: MarketWatch.com). This is changing, though. The Boomer Generation is demanding their doctors be educated in the risks and benefits of marijuana. They also want their doctors to understand how those effects work on the aging body.
In the medical community, doctors are being trained to broach the subject of marijuana use with more understanding and compassion. The idea is that if patients can’t be honest with their doctors, then the doctors can’t properly treat them (Source: MarketWatch.com). This is not just a positive in the call for research into the medical uses of marijuana, but for the personalization of medicine to the patient, as well. Sometimes doctors can generalize a patient and their symptoms, however, this is becoming archaic as Boomers call for a more individualized approach to healthcare, overall.
We can’t overlook the recreational use of marijuana by Boomers, though. Boomers seem more open-minded towards marijuana in general, but this shouldn’t be surprising, as they had more exposure to cannabis than previous generations. They are aware of the effects, benefits, and negatives from personal experience. As recreational marijuana use becomes more accepted, a lot of Boomers are returning to their favorite substance from their youth.
However, it seems that Boomers who use marijuana have a higher rate of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use, as well (Source: Time.com). They just might have a higher propensity for using mood- and mind-altering substances altogether. Although this is concerning, we must remember that the Boomer generation gave us Woodstock, Psychedelic Rock, and the counterculture movement. Boomers have been more willing to use alternative substances since they were young.
It seems a combination of factors has led the Boomer generation to the point of using marijuana at a rate seen only in teenagers (Source: Washingtonpost.com). With the changing of our current cultural views on the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis, Boomers’ previous experience with marijuana from their youth, and their general willingness to try alternative substances, has all culminated into Boomers being one of the fastest growing markets for marijuana sales. And, although there were outcries and concerns about teenage use rising with the legal market opening, this hasn’t been the case, as teenage use has either remained steady, or even declined in states with legal marijuana (Source: ABCNews.com). However, our parents (and grandparents) are sitting around getting stoned while in retirement.
And why shouldn’t they? Most of them worked a large portion of their lives. They led the way for the legalization of marijuana, and they continue to lead the way for research into cannabis as a medicine. Just as Boomers looked for alternatives to the societal norms in their youth, they now look for alternatives in their medicines, choosing something other than pharmaceutical options to relieve the illnesses and pain that often comes with aging.
Boomers also have the money to spend on marijuana, with the Boomer cannabis user spending an average of $95 dollars a month on marijuana products. They spend more on average than any other age group. In comparison, Gen-X marijuana users spend an average of just under $90 dollars a month, Millennial users spend about $73 dollars a month, and Generation Z users averaged about $62 dollars a month (Source: NYTimes.com). Combined with the growth of their demographic in marijuana sales, this makes Boomers a driving force in the cannabis market.
And what do Boomers look for in their marijuana products? Discretion of use is highly important, as well as controlling the dosage. Boomers don’t want to have to spark up to get the relief they need, and they don’t necessarily want to get blazed all day long, either. They just want alternatives to smoking flower.
This is catching the attention of dispensaries, too. Marijuana producers are making more and more varieties of edibles, topicals, drinks, and other alternatives to flower. The CBD market is exploding, and the Boomers who swear by marijuana products are fueling the sales (Source: Insider.com). A lot of dispensaries are popping up in areas that have a larger population of seniors to meet this demand. They are offering deals exclusively for seniors, along with special days for seniors to get discounts. This catering will only become more widespread, as the people who sell cannabis try capitalizing on this prime demographic.
Boomers have led the way on our current understanding of marijuana, as a recreational substance, and as a medicine. It seems only fitting that they would be one of the biggest spending and fastest growing age groups for cannabis sales. They’ve been fighting for the right to use marijuana since they were young adults, and they’ve been waiting for the day they could use cannabis without repercussions since they were fighting the war in Vietnam. And even though it was once thought that victory wouldn’t come in their lifetimes, Boomers are now retiring with more choices in medicine than ever before, and a higher quality of life than seen in previous generations.
Just as they rebelled against the societal norms in their youth, Boomers are rebelling against traditional ideas of aging. They are not frail old people, they are active individuals who are still enjoying life. Increasingly, it seems marijuana is helping them do this. Boomers are currently setting the standards for what retirement will look like for future generations.
Although Boomers and Millennials feuding on generational lines is common in the media these days, we must not forget that the Boomer Generation laid the groundwork for the legal medical and recreational use of marijuana that is currently taking hold in the United States. They may have passed the mantle on to us as we become adults, but they are still leading the fight. Not just in the call for better choices in medicine and healthcare, but in the right to make personal choices, as well. With their spending power, and the desire to maintain a high quality of life as they get older, The Boomer Generation will continue to lead the way in the future of cannabis products.