Stoned California Seniors Heading to ER’s By the Thousands: UCSD Study

Stoned seniors — and we’re not talking high schoolers — are visiting emergency rooms for cannabis-related issues in unprecedented numbers, according to a new study by UC San Diego researchers.

According to the study conducted by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, only 366 Californians over the age of 65 visited an ER in 2005 for cannabis-related concerns. By 2019, that figure had increased by almost 3200%, when 12,167 seniors made trips to emergency rooms.

While a law was passed by the state back in ’96 approving the use of medical marijuana, a second law was passed in 2003 clarifying the legislation before it became more widely used. Recreational use of marijuana was approved by state voters in 2016. It’s worth noting that the study shows that while ER visits increased from 2013-17, they leveled off in 2017, the year weed became legally available for recreational use, so legalization does not appear to be associated with an increase in ER visits by older people for cannabis-related issues.

“Many patients assume they won’t have adverse side effects from cannabis because they often don’t consider it as serious as they would a prescription drug,” said Dr. Benjamin Han, a geriatrician who wrote the study. “I see a lot of older adults who are overconfident, saying they know how to deal with it – yet as they get older, their bodies are more sensitive, and the concentrations are different right to what they could have tried when they were. younger.”

Researchers said that “an increasing number of older adults … experimenting with cannabis to help alleviate chronic symptoms” is responsible, in part, for the wave of ER visits. Among other reasons, geriatricians are likely to be concerned about the study’s findings because older patients “are at increased risk of adverse health effects associated with psychoactive substances,” according to a news release issued by UC San Diego this week.

Although some older users experiment with the drug as an element of palliative care, others imbibe leisurely, of course. Both groups — who, according to researchers, are under the impression that their risk of regular use is decreasing — are using marijuana in increasing numbers since 2005; both have contributed to the spike in hospital trips, researchers believe.


The alliance asked researchers across North America for ideas on how to study cannabis as a treatment option, NBC 7’s Derek Togerson reports.

“Cannabis can slow reaction time and impair attention,” the news release states, “which can lead to injuries and falls; increase the risk for psychosis, delirium and paranoia; exacerbation of cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and interactions with other prescription medications.”

The authors of the study would like to see medical professionals normalize discussions with older patients about the use of cannabis, and, in doing so, take care not to group questions about its use with inquiries about the use of illegal drugs. The reason: Patients may not answer honestly.

“Instead, asking a question like, ‘Have you used cannabis – also known as marijuana – for any reason in the past 12 months?’ would encourage older adults to answer more candidly,” he said. co-author of the study, Dr Alison Moore. “Providers can then ask how often cannabis is used, for what purpose – such as medically for pain, sleep or anxiety or recreational relaxation – in what form (smoke, consumption, topical application) and whether they know how much THC and CBD is it. including. Once the provider has this type of information, they can then educate the patient about potential risks of using it.”