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Older Adults Pot use up

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Advocates Hope to Get Boost From Boomers in Legalization Effort

In her 88 years, Florence Siegel has learned how to relax: A glass of red wine. A crisp copy of The New York Times, if she can wrest it from her husband. Some classical music, preferably Bach. And every night like clockwork, she lifts a pipe to her lips and smokes marijuana.

Long a fixture among young people, use of the country's most popular illicit drug is now growing among the AARP set, as the massive generation of baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and '70s grows older.

The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.

Politically, advocates for legalizing marijuana say the number of older users could represent an important shift in their decades-long push to change the laws.

"For the longest time, our political opponents were older Americans who were not familiar with marijuana and had lived through the 'Reefer Madness' mentality and they considered marijuana a very dangerous drug," said Keith Stroup, the founder and lawyer of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group. "Now whether they resume the habit of smoking or whether they simply understand that it's no big deal and it shouldn't be a crime, in large numbers they're on our side of the issue."

The drug is credited with relieving many problems of aging: aches and pains, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and so on. Patients in 14 states enjoy medical marijuana laws, but those elsewhere buy or grow the drug illegally to ease their conditions.

But there's also the risk that health problems already faced by older people can be exacerbated by regular marijuana use.

Older users could be at risk for falls if they become dizzy, smoking it increases the risk of heart disease and it can cause cognitive impairment, said Dr. William Dale, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

"There are other better ways to achieve the same effects," he said.


Source: US: Older Adults' Pot Use Up