25 Feb 2010 - The use of the country's most popular illicit drug is now growing among the AARP set as the massive generation of baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and '70s grows older. The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent.
Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.
Some have used it ever since, while others are revisiting the habitin retirement, either for recreation or to cope with the aches andpains of aging.
Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse from Whitewater who is founder anddirector of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, said he's knownpeople who have resumed using marijuana after quitting for 30 years.
“They would quit when they were in their mid-20s and now they're comingback,” he said. “I hear it all the time. ‘Oh, I used to smoke it when Iwas in my 20s or teens and then I stopped.' I always ask, ‘Why did youstop?' ‘Oh, I had a family' or ‘Because of my job.' Nobody ever saidthey stopped because marijuana was causing a problem in their life.”
Amit Katz, owner of the Lifestyle Nutrition Centers in Palm Desert andLa Quinta and author of “Front Line of Nutrition,” said if moreretirees are using marijuana, it may be because this generation is justadmitting it.
“Before, it was such a taboo,” he said. “Maybe now we're demystifyingthe drug, and that's a good thing. Maybe they're finally piping up: ‘Ilike weed. I've like it since I smoked it for the first time in 1972.'Maybe that's where we're going with it.”
Marijuana is credited with relieving many problems of aging: aches and pains, glaucoma, macular degeneration and more.
Patients in 14 states enjoy medical marijuana laws, but those elsewhere buy or grow the drug illegally to ease their conditions.
Pete Delany, director of applied studies at the Substance Abuse andMental Health Services Administration, said boomers' drug use defiedstereotypes but is important to address. "When you think about peoplewho are 50 and older, you don't generally think of them as usingillicit drugs — the occasional Hunter Thompson or the kind of hippiedippie guy that gets a lot of press maybe,” he said. “As a nation, it'simportant to us to say, ‘It's not just young people using drugs. It'solder people using drugs.'”
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