Smoking pot is no longer a teenager’s domain. The drug that used to be reserved for 17-year-olds forming their own grunge bands and washed-up hippies is now more popular than ever, including among older generations. As marijuana becomes more accepted across several states for recreational and medical use, parents and grandparents are using cannabis in growing numbers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a summary of its findings from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, covering survey years from 2002 until 2014. Among its information is the news that marijuana use among teens ages 12 to 17 is actually down 10% from when the survey began. However, the highest percentage increases for pot use occurred in the older age groups.
Cannabis use among adults ages 55 to 64 increased a whopping 455% from 2002 to 2014. Over that same time period, marijuana use among adults ages 65 and up increased by 333%. Granted, the percentages are small — from 1.1% to 6.1% among the 55-64 group and from 0.3% to 1.3% in the 65-plus demographic. However, with trends like that, pot use among seniors could outpace that of teens in just a few years.
So, what’s happening to make older adults take up a joint or munch on an edible more often? Here are a few explanations.
1. Medical marijuana is more acceptable
Nationwide surveys show that acceptance of marijuana use in general has been growing, with 61% of Americans now supporting marijuana legalization in general. An even larger percentage of Americans — now at 89% — support the use of medical marijuana if it has been recommended by a doctor.
About half the states in the nation have some type of medical marijuana program, and adults are using it for a wide variety of ailments. Many states passed legislation, discussing it as a way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder or to help children suffering from seizures. However, The Washington Post reports that older Americans are turning to pot for treating ailments that come from old age — like sleeplessness, arthritis, and general aches and pains. CBS reports there are tinctures and rubs with marijuana in them that can also help with pain, and can also help with the sharp nerve pains from diabetes or chemotherapy. Some seniors, who might otherwise be prescribed opioids for chronic health issues, could potentially find relief using cannabis instead.
Medicinal uses for weed don’t just include ailments for the elderly, however. It’s also known to treat anxiety, migraines, and Crohn’s disease — health issues that can affect people of any age.
2. Parents have fewer responsibilities as kids get older
Right now, the parents you see trying marijuana the most are those whose children are mostly grown already. Their careers are established, and they have more free time and disposable income to experiment in their middle age. Perhaps they want to see if the brownie recipes have gotten better since their college years — or maybe they’re starting to use it as a way to treat those aforementioned aches and pains. Either way, the Post suggests that as children get older, their parents have become more open to the idea of giving marijuana a try for themselves.
“When you’re child rearing, you can’t say one thing and do another,” one 62-year-old woman told the Huffington Post. “You have to set an example for your kids. Once your kids are gone, you’re much more free to explore.”
3. They’re reliving Woodstock
The famed festival was 47 years ago, but older generations who remember it might be seeking the chance to get back to their glory days with a little weed and Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin on vinyl. Perhaps surprisingly, national survey data back up this theory. Baby boomers (now roughly between the ages of 54 and 70) who supported marijuana legalization in the 1970s dropped off once they settled down and had families of their own, but that support is on the uptick again. Pew Research illustrates this trend clearly: In 1978, 47% of boomers supported marijuana use, but that dropped steadily to an all-time low of 17% approval in the early 1990s. However, their support is now back up to an all-time high of 50% approval.
Gallup points out that the percentage of Americans who have tried marijuana has grown over the years, and points to boomers as part of the reason why. “Between 1969 and 1977, young adults were the group most likely to experiment with marijuana. But as those adults have aged and successive generations have joined their ranks, the overall percentage having ever tried it has sharply increased,” the publication reports.
Marijuana dispensaries, especially in states like Colorado and Washington where cannabis is permitted recreationally, have taken note of the popularity among older generations. They’re marketing to older users, and the Post reports that about 25% of marijuana purchasers in Washington state are adults older than 40.
Parents of young kids: How do they fit in?
There doesn’t seem to be such a negative stigma surrounding older adults who choose to try a brownie or light up every now and then. In fact, it might even be amusing to think of your aging dad or grandpa with a joint in his hand. Still, that’s generally not the case among younger parents who still have children at home who are literally their dependents.
One article in Pacific Standard demonstrates that current drug policies can put parents at risk of losing custody of their children if caught smoking marijuana while their kids are around. Even owning marijuana paraphernalia can put parents in hot water, the publication reports. Though, most people who use marijuana compare it to using tobacco or alcohol: When used responsibly and typically out of range of their children, they say it’s a perfectly acceptable way to unwind.
In one Guardian article, parents reported how they viewed their own marijuana use in light of being a parent. Most parents refused to use weed in front of their children, with many of them waiting until their kids were asleep to use it at all. Others emphasized that they limit their use to ensure they aren’t “totally baked” while their kids are depending on them. Many reported they were more patient with their children when they did smoke small amounts of weed — though a consensus of some pot users is a far cry from any scientific backing.