As a growing number of older adults are experimenting with cannabis to help alleviate chronic symptoms, a new University of California San Diego School of Medicine study has identified a sharp increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits among the elderly.
The study, published Jan. 9, 2023 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, identified a 1,808% relative increase in the rate of cannabis-related trips to the emergency department among California adults ages 65 and older from 2005 to 2019. Researchers used a trend analysis of data from the Department of Healthcare Access and Information and found that cannabis-related emergency department visits went from a total of 366 in 2005 to 12,167 in 2019.
The significant increase is particularly troublesome to geriatricians, given that older adults are at a higher risk for adverse health effects associated with psychoactive substances, including cannabis.
“Many patients assume they aren’t going to have adverse side effects from cannabis because they often don’t view it as seriously as they would a prescription drug,” said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, the study’s first author and a geriatrician in the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology, and Palliative Care in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
“I do see a lot of older adults who are overly confident, saying they know how to handle it — yet as they have gotten older, their bodies are more sensitive, and the concentrations are very different from what they may have tried when they were younger.”