Doctors need to screen over-50s for cannabis use, study says

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In a new study from the University of Texas at Austin, researchers found that older people who use cannabis to relieve or treat health problems are failing to discuss their substance use with doctors.

Those taking cannabis for health reasons are more likely than non-medical (recreational) users to buy it at a medical dispensary (20% vs 5%) and less likely to get it for free (25% vs 46%) or from other sources such as parties (49% vs 56%).

Cannabis use among older US adults has more than doubled between 2008 and 2019 including to relieve pain and treat health issues.

But little is known about where they get cannabis and how much they discuss their use with doctors, which this study aimed to establish.

The research was based on responses from 17,685 men and women aged 50 and older to the 2018 and 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

This annual federal government survey, which is the largest of its kind, measures substance use and misuse and mental illness across the US.

Overall, the study found that nearly one in ten (9%) used cannabis over the past year.

Nearly a fifth (19%) of these people used cannabis for a medical purpose to some extent, e.g., to treat chronic pain, depression or diseases like arthritis, and the rest (81%) were recreational (non-medical) users.

The team found people who reported using cannabis for medical reasons were more than four times more likely than non-medical users to discuss their use with a healthcare professional.

However, only a minority of medical users did this, which the authors say implies some are self-treating without consulting a doctor.

A higher proportion of older cannabis users had a mental illness, alcohol use disorder, and nicotine dependence compared with their age peers who did not use cannabis, although medical users were less likely to have alcohol problems compared to recreational users.

The researchers say the findings have significant clinical and policy implications especially as more US states are legalizing cannabis, which is leading to a rapid rise in uptake among older people.

They want doctors to screen older people routinely for cannabis and other substance use, check cannabis users for mental health problems and recommend treatment when necessary.

Educating this group about the risks of obtaining cannabis and cannabis products from unregulated sources is also vital.

If you care about cannabis, please read studies about using cannabis too much may lead to false memories and findings of cannabis could help fight resistant bacteria.

For more information about cannabis and your health, please see recent studies about single dose of cannabis THC may cause psychotic, depressive, and anxiety symptoms and results showing that heavy cannabis use could affect your DNA, harm brain and heart functions.

The study is published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. One author of the study is Namkee G. Choi.

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