The legalization of cannabis in various states for both medical and recreational purposes has significantly increased cannabis use among older Americans. However, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has shed light on a concerning consequence of this trend. The research findings reveal a significant rise in cannabis-related emergency department (ED) visits with adults aged 65 years and older in California.
Psychological changes associated with aging, along with increased comorbidity and medication use, place seniors at a higher risk for negative effects from psychoactive substances like cannabis. The severe physiological changes caused by cannabis use can aggravate existing pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions. Additionally, potential interactions between cannabis and other medications may lead to further adverse effects. This concerning finding made the study aimed to analyze the trends in cannabis-related ED visits in California among older adults.
Using data from the Department of Health Care Access and Information, the researchers studied cannabis-related ED visits between 2005 and 2019. They identified these visits using specific codes related to non-dependent abuse, unspecified use, dependence, or poisoning. The study revealed a staggering increase in the cannabis-related ED visit rate among adults aged 65 years and older in California.
The rate per 100,000 ED visits soared from 20.7 in 2005 to 395.0 in 2019, representing a remarkable relative increase of 1804%. Older men had a higher ED visit rate compared to older women in 2019, while older women experienced a larger relative percent increase. Older Black adults had the highest ED visit rate with the most significant increase compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
These findings carry significant implications for healthcare professionals and policymakers. Given the increased risk of adverse effects associated with cannabis use among older adults, it is crucial for healthcare providers to routinely ask about cannabis use and assess for any problematic patterns. This proactive approach can help identify older adults who may require medical intervention or support.
However, the study acknowledges several limitations such as the inability to differentiate between medical and recreational cannabis use, the lack of data regarding the type and route of cannabis consumption, and the absence of information on Veterans Administration facilities. Furthermore, the study’s focus is limited to California, so caution must be exercised when generalizing the results to other states.
The rise in cannabis-related emergency visits among older adults in California highlights the need for increased awareness and communication regarding the elderly use of cannabis. As the popularity of cannabis continues to grow, healthcare providers must prioritize discussions about cannabis use during routine medical care for older adults. Continued research in this area is crucial to ensure the well-being of older adults in the evolving landscape of cannabis legalization.
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