National headlines over the past year have frequently highlighted the growing demand for cannabis among Baby Boomers. A generation who grew up during the peak of the American War on Drugs, and who may even remember the messages of the infamous Reefer Madness film. With a warming political and social climate surrounding cannabis, Baby Boomers seem to be shedding their previous hesitation and flocking to the industry in surprising numbers.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many over the age of 55 are now exploring it medicinally. Aches, pains, and inflammation top the list of health concerns Baby Boomers are treating with medicinal cannabis these days. What is more fascinating is this demographic’s curiosity about cannabis as a recreational experience.
The numbers speak for themselves. The cannabis industry isn’t just for Millenials; it’s time for companies to consider the opportunities presented by Baby Boomers. For the demographic over the age of 55, what is driving this new (or renewed) curiosity? More importantly perhaps, what is preventing them from accessing the industry?
Baby Boomers and Cannabis, a Growing Trend
Using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers NYU School of Medicine and the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, recognized a rising rate of cannabis consumption among people aged 50 and older. From survey responses collected between 2015 and 2016, the authors concluded cannabis consumption has doubled over the last decade for this age group.
According to their report, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, nine percent of people between the ages of 50 to 64 and three percent over the age of 65 reported consuming cannabis in the last year. To the untrained eye, these numbers still seem relatively low, but the rates of cannabis use among Baby Boomers is now on par with the teenagers. Also, there are now more than 30 states with medical cannabis programs, and an additional ten allowing for adult use, we can assume even higher rates in 2019.
As another indication of shifting opinions within this generation comes from a survey of community-living older adults in Colorado. The study obtained data through in-person or online surveys, from 274 participants. The authors discovered 45 percent of respondents reported past-year cannabis use. Even more impressive, of those who reported cannabis use, the majority (54 percent) relied on it for both recreational and medicinal purposes.
In Canada, a country with the largest adult-use market in the world, trends are similar. Cannabis use has steadily increased over the years among all Canadians, but as a recent report highlights, there has been a remarkable increase in cannabis consumption for those over the age of 50. The “CAMH Monitor eReport 2017: Substance Use, Mental Health and Well-Being Among Ontario Adults”, recorded an increase of cannabis use from 1.4 percent in 1998 to 11.4 percent in 2017. Another Canadian statistic worth noting: of the 200,000 Canadians with a cannabis prescription, more than two-thirds use it for the treatment of arthritis, a medical condition commonly associated with aging.
So long as there is legal access, Baby Boomers are turning to cannabis in striking numbers. Does it have to do with disposable income? Do they have different health conditions in their older years? Why are Baby Boomers so curious about the medicinal and recreational properties of cannabis?
Turning to Cannabis to Treat Health Concerns, Move Away from Alcohol
There are three primary trends to explain cannabis use among those 55 and older: health concerns, recreational curiosity, and changing legislation. Health concerns are the driving force, but this generation is only comfortable to seek medicinal cannabis through legal means. Finally, Baby Boomers aren’t just trying cannabis for health – they want to give the recreational experience a go as well, perhaps as a replacement for alcohol.
First, Baby Boomers are increasingly open to using cannabis for the treatment of various health issues. As one survey of Colorado residents found, reasons for past-year cannabis use included arthritis, chronic back pain, and mood disorders. Survey respondents reported, “Past-year marijuana users reported improved overall health, quality of life, day-to-day functioning, and improvement in pain.” As we saw, Canadians are relying on cannabis for the treatment of arthritis as well.
Another investigation, “Baby Boomers and Cannabis Delivery Systems” found with alternative non-smoking methods of consumptions now available, the 55 plus demographic felt more comfortable experimenting with the plant. Smoking anything is a serious health concern for many, and this generation seems more comfortable with vaping, edibles, and topicals as healthier means of ingestion.
In Canada, trends are remarkably similar to those found in Colorado. As Mike Babins, a Canadian retailer told Global News, he has witnessed a steady increase in the number of customers 60 and over post-legalization. While they may have waited until federal approval, in Babin’s experience, “first-timers or first-in-a-long-timers,” are flocking to the stores to ask questions and try new products.
Babin explained many older adults came to him seeking CBD-rich strains for health concerns, but there was also a portion of customers curious about the recreational benefits. He spoke with many who wanted to substitute cannabis for alcohol. As Bain said, “They have a whole bottle of wine after dinner instead of a glass of wine with dinner,” he said. “A lot are just saying, ‘I have too much stress and I’ve been dealing with it the wrong way.'”
Lingering Concerns and Difficulty with Access
Not all Baby Boomers are chasing the green dragon. There are still lingering concerns about addiction, abuse, and health risks stemming from the misinformation spread during the War on Drug years. Retailers like Babin, have found out, those 55 and over still carry several concerns about the health risks of cannabis.
The outdated stigma about cannabis still haunts the industry. The authors behind “Qualitative Analysis of Cannabis Use Among Older Adults in Colorado” reported, “a degree of stigma, with some participants in nine out of the 17 focus groups hesitant to publicly disclose their own use.” This information comes from a survey-based in Colorado, a state with adult-use since 2014.
The survey analysis, published in the aptly titled Drugs and Aging Journal, also discovered Baby Boomers are still finding it challenging to find a physician open to discussions about the plant’s medical benefits. Even in Colorado, patients reported their physicians were wary about recommending cannabis to their patients because of the lack of clinical trials.
Patients can always seek a 2nd opinion, but in these focus groups, Baby Boomers reported a desire to stick with their family physician. Even if they wanted to explore the benefits of cannabis, they were hesitant to go outside their health network for financial reasons (loss of insurance coverage), and because their doctor knew their medical history. These patients were frustrated with the lack of cannabis knowledge, but not frustrated enough to seek an outside opinion.
There is a strong preference in this generation to stay within a legal framework. Baby Boomers are hesitant to purchase on the black market, or even switch doctors to find a pro-cannabis physician. As this survey uncovered, they wanted more information and better education about the benefits and risks associated with cannabis use. In particular, they wanted to discuss this with a trusted physician.
Baby Boomers Have the Curiosity and the Disposal Income
Baby Boomers are a demographic to watch. As we now know, they are just as eager to experiment with cannabis as teenagers, perhaps more so because they are also using it for the treatment of many common health conditions. The driving reasons behind their shift in opinion are thanks to a changing regulatory environment, increased health concerns associated with age, and a recreational curiosity.
That said, there are still several barriers to entry, primarily the lack of appropriate resources and information. Baby Boomers want to discuss cannabis consumption with their physician and have been left frustrated by the lack of support through the conventional medical system.
The industry would be wise to consider Baby Boomers as a critical new market. This generation is excited about the health benefits of Cannabis, but also have the disposable income to enjoy the recreational side as well.