The Role of Alcohol and Cannabis in the Lives of Baby Boomers

Seems like baby boomers are returning to their golden years as harbingers of change as two studies report significant increases in cannabis consumption and a smaller uptick in binge drinking. Considering the problems associated with aging—physical deterioration, onset of age-related ailments like arthritis, cancer and movement disorders as well as increased mental challenges such as depression, Alzheimer’s, failing cognition and more—this may not be so surprising, as cannabis and alcohol can provide therapeutic relief and an escape from unpleasant realities.

A December 2016 study, “Demographic trends among older cannabis users in the United States,” found that over the last 10 years cannabis use among 50 to 64-year-old baby boomers increased by 57.8 percent, while those aged 65 and older increased by a phenomenal 250 percent.

“A December 2016 study, ‘Demographic trends among older cannabis users in the United States,’ found that over the last 10 years cannabis use among 50 to 64-year-old baby boomers increased by 57.8 percent, while those aged 65 and older increased by a phenomenal 250 percent.”

Although these are astounding increases, they still represent only a small percentage of baby boomers. In the early 2000s only about 4.5 percent of those aged 50 to 64 consumed cannabis and an almost negligible 0.4 percent of seniors 65 and older consumed cannabis. In 2013, the numbers had increased to 7.1 percent and 1.4 percent respectively, still just a sliver of the overall 50-and-over population, but a possible harbinger of trends to come considering the increasing legality and ease of access to cannabis.

Hopefully it does portend a significant increase in consumption as cannabis is tailor made for the ailments of advancing years. Whether it is used to treat the pain of arthritis or aching backs, depression from loneliness or anxiety, insomnia due to illnesses or financial stress or ameliorate problems associated with movement disorders like Parkinson’s and essential tremors, cannabis is effective and safe with far fewer of the negative side effects found in standard prescription pharmaceuticals.

Since cannabis consumption was rampant when baby boomers were in their teens and 20s back in the go-go ’60s and ’70s, most know first-hand of its benefits and benign negative reactions. With the ’60s mantra of “Make Love, Not War” they are also very aware of cannabis’ legendary properties for rekindling passion and sexual arousal, which can wane precipitously in the elderly.

“Whether it is used to treat the pain of arthritis or aching backs, depression from loneliness or anxiety, insomnia due to illnesses or financial stress or ameliorate problems associated with movement disorders like Parkinson’s and essential tremors, cannabis is effective and safe with far fewer of the negative side effects found in standard prescription pharmaceuticals.”

Although the study finding an increase of cannabis consumption in aging baby boomers is a cause for celebration, another study, “Demographic trends of binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorders among older adults in the United States,” is cause for concern. The study found “binge drinking and alcohol use disorders are increasing among older adults” and that “older women reported large increases in binge drinking and alcohol use disorders.”

As would be expected alcohol consumption vastly outpaces cannabis consumption with 63 percent of adults over 50 reporting alcohol use in the previous year compared to less than eight percent having used cannabis. When compared to the soaring increase in cannabis consumption, binge drinking rose only a moderate two percent from 12.9 percent in 2005-2006 to 14.9 percent in 2013-2014. Considering that far more baby boomers engage in binge drinking than cannabis inhaling, the overall negative health consequences border on disastrous.

The small uptick in binge drinking most likely aligns with some of the same reasons for the more significant uptick in cannabis consumption. Unlike cannabis, which truly does provide therapeutic benefits for age-related ailments, alcohol has no benefits for almost all of the ailments associated with advancing years be it for pain, movement disorders or cancer. Although alcohol can temporarily mitigate depression, it can easily lead to severe and debilitating physical and mental problems.

With more states implementing cannabis legalization, it is not unreasonable to expect that cannabis consumption will become more acceptable. Maybe some of the baby boomer friends of binge drinkers will encourage them to use cannabis instead of alcohol. They may very well find the social camaraderie of passing the joint, pipe or water pipe with their cannabis consuming friends provides far better relief from the stress and strains of daily life than alcohol.

Cannabis played a major role in the lives and attitudes of the baby boomers and was in part responsible for the world-shattering paradigm shift they brought about. Once again cannabis is playing a major role in their lives, but this time it is more personal as it makes their lives more comfortable and content as its millennium old health properties are rediscovered for the ailments of advancing years.

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