California Seniors’ Weed-Related ER Visits Soar

Medical marijuana has long been approved for legal use to treat health problems like severe nausea, pain, insomnia, anxiety, glaucoma, and extreme weight loss.  But with the more recent and widespread acceptance of legalized recreational cannabis, emergency rooms have seen a dramatic spike in the number of visits from older adults for marijuana-related concerns.  

Although many of today’s seniors, the Baby Boomer generation, grew up when weed was a commonly-used recreational drug, today’s cannabis may have a significantly higher concentration of THC – the psychoactive component of marijuana, and with the advent of gummy candies, vapes, and other delivery methods, older adults can more easily over-imbibe.  As we age, our bodies may be more sensitive to drugs and alcohol, and less able to process these substances.

Cannabis may slow reaction time, impair attention, and contribute to an increased risk of falls among older adults.  Marijuana may also interact dangerously with other prescription medications.  According to a recent study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, the number of seniors over 65 visiting emergency rooms for cannabis-related issues skyrocketed in California by a 1,808 percent relative increase between 2005 and 2019. 

Geriatricians say seniors are at a higher risk for adverse health effects linked to psychoactive substances including psychosis, delirium, paranoia, and worsening of cardiovascular and pulmonary health conditions.  A more direct and open conversation between doctors and their older patients about cannabis use may help encourage a better exchange of information, including proper dosage, risk factors, and drug interactions.  

While cannabis use can be helpful to treat some chronic symptoms, it is important that older adults understand the risks, and have good information about how much THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (cannabidiol) is in the product they use and its potentially harmful side effects.   Read more about cannabis use and older adults by following this link to the Ottawa Public Health website.