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You may be surprised to learn that middle age Americans are smoking more pot than their teenage children. And while the media report that pot is no big deal, about 9 percent of adults who use cannabis, go on to being addicted. The rate of addiction really takes a jump (17 percent) if a person begins to smoke pot as a teen (NIDA).

We know that the chemical (THC) in cannabis is not good for the developing brain of a teen. It impairs functions such as attention, memory, learning and decision-making. Heavy pot use also impacts life with outcomes like poor school performance, higher dropout rates, increased financial dependence, greater unemployment and lower life satisfaction. But what about older adults? Smoking pot at middle age can affect health in a number of ways.

The American Lung Association made a statement. “Smoking marijuana clearly damages the human hung, and regular use leads to chronic bronchitis and can cause an immune compromised person to be more susceptible to lung infections. No one should be exposed to second hand marijuana smoke. Due to the risk it poses to lung health, the American Lung Association strongly cautions the public against smoking marijuana as well as tobacco products.”

As we consider the state of health of older adults, there may be other medical conditions that could be impacted by smoking pot. These areas of concern for older adults should be considered:

  1. Little is known about the effects of cannabis use on cardiovascular disease. There is concern that smoking pot could result in an inadequate flow of blood to the heart (ischemia) in susceptible people.
  2. Due to the effects of pot–impaired attention, short-term memory loss, pot smokers could be more at risk driving under the influence and /or more prone to accidents in the home. As a person ages, risk of falling and accidents are of concern.
  3. Residual effects of pot in adults have not been well studied and there are questions as to how those effects may impact adults with cognitive decline.
  4. For older adults on drugs that increase the risk of bleeding, pot may further increase that risk if used with other medications like aspirin, anticoagulants, anti platelet drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, etc.
  5. Those taking diabetes drugs may experience an impact on their blood sugar.
  6. Those on benzodiazepines may experience increased drowsiness.
  7. Those with compromised immune systems may experience more problems with the body’s ability to fight disease.
  8. According to studies, the risk of gum disease is higher in adults who smoke pot than those who do not.

Recreational pot use in the 25 states and Washington DC may be legal, but the impact on older adult health cannot be ignored. According to surveys, half of boomers support the legalization of pot. Some claim to use it for pain and sleep. Others like the way it helps them reduce stress and relax. But like all drugs, there are side effects to consider. No one can truthfully say marijuana is a safe drug to use.

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