Baby Boomers are taking up marijuana in a big way

In a new study, marijuana use among seniors in Colorado has risen to extravagant levels

By Phillip Smith
June 15, 2019 9:00AM (UTC)
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FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016 file photo, judges rate marijuana plants at the Oregon Cannabis Grower's Fair marijuana plant competition in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File) (AP)

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

They may have dabbled with marijuana in the 1960s, and then set it aside as they settled into adult life, but now baby boomers are returning to the herb with a vengeance — and not mainly to get high.

A new University of Colorado study finds that marijuana use among seniors in the state rose a whopping tenfold over the past decade, with boomers reporting that they are using it to treat a variety of diseases and conditions, including pain, anxiety, and depression.


Looking at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the study found that 3.7 percent of adults 65 or over used marijuana in the past year in 2017, up from 0.3 percent in 2007, a more than tenfold increase. Among people aged 60 to 64, 9.4 percent reported past year use in 2017, up nearly fivefold from the 1.9 percent in 2007.

The rapid increases in use among boomers are the result of two trends, one demographic and the other political. First, the boomers are getting old, with all the attendant aches and pains aging implies. And second, more and more states are moving to end marijuana prohibition, whether merely for medical marijuana or with full-blown legalization. More older people are feeling a need for weed, and it is becoming easier to legally obtain.

But baby boomers aren’t the only ones looking to marijuana to cure — or at least ease — their ills. A recent survey from the market research firm Nielsen finds that a full third (34 percent) of all American adults are interested in using legal marijuana, mainly for health reasons. More than 80 percent said they would use it for treatment of chronic pain, improved mental health, and treatment of minor injuries; while more than 70 percent said they would use as a sleep aid or for relaxation.


Only about half (48 percent) said they also used it for getting high, or, as the survey put it, “having a good time with family and friends.” Slightly more than a quarter (28 percent) cited spiritual reasons.

Most of the people who have an ailment and are open to using marijuana said they were already using prescription or over the counter medications, but thought marijuana would be more effective than their current medications (70 percent), thought it would be “more natural” (69 percent), or that it was healthier (67 percent).

Weed appears to be well on the way to becoming a medicine of choice for millions of Americans, and with the promise of eased access as more states expand medical marijuana or go for full legalization, millions more adults — of all ages — are likely to follow. Seniors in particular are finding that weed is good for what ails them.

Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.

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