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Rising Marijuana Use Among Seniors Linked to Increased Health Issues, Study Finds

As marijuana use becomes legal and more accepted across America, more seniors are developing unhealthy relationships with the drug, a new report suggests. Data on almost 56 million Medicare beneficiaries reveals a significant increase in healthcare encounters related to cannabis use from 2017 through 2022. The study, led by Dr. Silvia Perez-Vilar of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, highlights growing concerns over the impact of marijuana on older adults.

The FDA team's analysis excluded nursing home residents and focused on Medicare claims mentioning any medical incident linked to cannabis use. The results indicated a steady rise in cannabis-linked medical care among seniors over the five years of the study.

By 2022, the highest rates were found in states or territories with both adult and medical use legalization, with about 45 cannabis-related cases recorded for every 10,000 Medicare claims. In states where only medical marijuana was legal, the rate was slightly lower at 41.5 cases per 10,000 claims. Conversely, in states where marijuana use was illegal for both recreational and medical purposes, the rate dropped to 27.7 cases per 10,000.

Experts have previously expressed concerns over the rise in addictions and mental health crises linked to highly potent cannabis, particularly among the young. For instance, a recent study found that teens using cannabis face 11 times the odds of experiencing a psychotic episode compared to those who abstain. The new study suggests that these dangers may also extend to older adults.

The FDA team noted that the increasing rates of healthcare encounters documenting cannabis-related disorders among older adults might be associated with the type of cannabis legalization. The findings were published June 18 in the journal JAMA.

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