Older Adults’ Perspective on Medical Marijuana:
Poll Indicates Medical Marijuana Gets
Wary Welcome From Older Adults
Overall, 6% of poll respondents reported using marijuana for medical purposes and 18% indicated they know someone personally who uses marijuana for medical purposes. Nearly one-third of respondents 31% felt that marijuana definitely provides pain relief, 38% believed it probably does, 27% were unsure, while 4% said they believed marijuana does not provide pain relief.
When comparing marijuana with prescription medications for treating pain, nearly 48% indicated that they felt prescription pain medication was more effective than marijuana, 14% thought marijuana was more effective, and 38% said they considered marijuana and prescription pain medication to have about the same effectiveness.
About two in five respondents, 41%, said there is more ability to control dosages with prescription pain medications than with marijuana, 21% felt there is more ability to control dosage with marijuana, and 38% believed the ability to control the dosage is about the same for both.
More than half of respondents or 57% thought that prescription pain medication has more side effects, 9% said marijuana has more side effects, and 34% believe they are about the same. About half of older adults (48%) believed prescription pain medication is more addictive than marijuana, 13% said marijuana is more addictive, and 38% thought they are about the same.
Discussing Medical Marijuana with Health Care Providers
One out of five respondents, 21%, reported that their primary health care provider has asked whether they use marijuana. When asked if their health care providers are knowledgeable about medical marijuana, 18% agreed that they were knowledgeable, 7% disagreed, and the majority, 75%, did not know. When given a scenario about whether they would ask their health care provider about medical marijuana if they had a serious health condition that might respond well to marijuana use, 44% of respondents said definitely yes, 26% probably yes, 13% said they would not ask, and 17% said they don’t know if they would ask.
Support for Medical Marijuana
Four out of five respondents said they strongly support; 35% somewhat support allowing medical marijuana use with a doctor’s recommendation; 20% said they do not support use of medical marijuana. In contrast, two in five, 40%, support allowing medical marijuana for anyone and the same proportion support allowing adults to use marijuana for any reason. Three in five or 62% of respondents believed that health insurance should cover medical marijuana when recommended by a doctor. Nearly two thirds, 64%, felt the government should fund research to study the health effects of marijuana.
As an increasing number of states have legalized medical marijuana, there has also been an upward trend in marijuana use among older adults. While only 6% of poll respondents said they personally use medical marijuana, across the U.S. population this represents millions of older adults.
Marijuana use, particularly long-term use, has been associated with impaired cognitive function (memory), decision making, and the ability to perform complex tasks. There are limited data on the health effects of marijuana use in older adults.
As more states legalize marijuana use (both medical and recreational), it is important for clinicians to routinely ask about use of marijuana. Few poll respondents reported that their primary care provider has asked whether they use marijuana.
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Dr. Preeti Malani
University of Michigan Professor of Internal Medicine And Director of The National Poll on Healthy Aging
Citation Malani P, Singer D, Solway E, Kirch M, Clark S. Older adults’ perspective on medical marijuana. University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. April 2018. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/143211