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A new study found a growing number of adults ages 65 and older are turning up to emergency departments to help alleviate chronic symptoms of cannabis use, announced the University of California, San Diego. 

The study, conducted by the UCSD School of Medicine and published on June 9 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 pulled data from the Department of Healthcare Access and Information, finding cannabis-related emergency department visits increased from 366 in 2005 to 12,167 in 2019.

“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. 

Han said he sees many older adults who ate overly confident believing they know how to handle the substance. 

“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,” Han said. 

According to researchers, Cannabis can slow reaction time and impair attention, which may lead to injuries and falls; increase the risk for psychosis, delirium, and paranoia; exacerbate cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and interact with other prescription medications.

Cannabis consumption for medical and recreational purposes by older adults has sharply increased in the past two deceased since its legalization. California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and recreational cannabis in 2016. 

“We truly have much to learn about cannabis, given all the new forms of it and combinations of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), and this will inform our understanding of risks and possible benefits, too.”

Researchers highlights that education and discussions around cannabis should be included in medical care. 

“Although cannabis may be helpful for some chronic symptoms, it is important to weigh that potential benefit with the risk, including ending up in an emergency department,” Han said.

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