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Marijuana Use by Seniors Goes Up as Boomers Age

Senior man puffing out of bong

Perry Parks, 67, takes a puff of marijuana at his home in Rockingham, N.C., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010. The retired Army pilot suffers crippling pain from degenerative disc disease and arthritis before turning to marijuana, which he first had tried in college, and was amazed how well it worked for the pain.
(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

By MATT SEDENSKY, Associated Press Writer
Mon Feb 22, 4:08 pm ET

MIAMI – 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.

The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent.

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.

Some have used it ever since, while others are revisiting the habit in retirement, either for recreation or as a way to cope with the aches and pains of aging.

Siegel walks with a cane and has arthritis in her back and legs. She finds marijuana has helped her sleep better than pills ever did. And she can't figure out why everyone her age isn't sharing a joint, too.
"They're missing a lot of fun and a lot of relief," she said.
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 that it shouldn't be a crime, in large numbers they're on our side of the issue."
Each night, 66-year-old Stroup says he sits down to the evening news, pours himself a glass of wine and rolls a joint. He's used the drug since he was a freshman at Georgetown, but many older adults are revisiting marijuana after years away.

"The kids are grown, they're out of school, you've got time on your hands and frankly it's a time when you can really enjoy marijuana," Stroup said. "Food tastes better, music sounds better, sex is more enjoyable."

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.

Among them is Perry Parks, 67, of Rockingham, N.C., a retired Army pilot who suffered crippling pain from degenerative disc disease and arthritis. He had tried all sorts of drugs, from Vioxx to epidural steroids, but found little success. About two years ago he turned to marijuana, which he first had tried in college, and was amazed how well it worked for the pain.

"I realized I could get by without the narcotics," Parks said, referring to prescription painkillers. "I am essentially pain free."
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.
He said he'd caution against using it even if a patient cites benefits.
"There are other better ways to achieve the same effects," he said.
Pete Delany, director of applied studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said boomers' drug use defied stereotypes, but is important to address.

"When you think about people who are 50 and older you don't generally think of them as using illicit drugs — the occasional Hunter Thompson or the kind of hippie dippie guy that gets a lot of press maybe," he said. "As a nation, it's important to us to say, 'It's not just young people using drugs it's older people using drugs.'"
In conversations, older marijuana users often say they smoke in less social settings than when they were younger, frequently preferring to enjoy the drug privately. They say the quality (and price) of the drug has increased substantially since their youth and they aren't as paranoid about using it.

Dennis Day, a 61-year-old attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said when he used to get high, he wore dark glasses to disguise his red eyes, feared talking to people on the street and worried about encountering police. With age, he says, any drawbacks to the drug have disappeared.

"My eyes no longer turn red, I no longer get the munchies," Day said. "The primary drawbacks to me now are legal."
Siegel bucks the trend as someone who was well into her 50s before she tried pot for the first time. She can muster only one frustration with the drug.

"I never learned how to roll a joint," she said. "It's just a big nuisance. It's much easier to fill a pipe."

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Check out Pot-Talk.com for more of the Rev's Newsletters!

Now that I have your attention. Hello there ! My friends, associates and myself know me as the REV. Now who is the REV you ask? Well, he is just a person like but unlike yourself. Just a creature on this great planet of ours who wants nothing other than to live their life as peaceful, content and as happy as possible. Nothing more. nothing less.

Now, the reason as to why I am putting out this pamphlet. My intention is to relate? True stories to others that may or may not allow them to not only look at people that smoke pot (marijuana) in a different light, but maybe look at life in general, in a different and better way. That and nothing more.

I believe that we are all individuals with our own unique thought process and because of this, we each and all are entitled to our own opinions be they right, wrong or partially the same. But, that's my opinion and everyone else is also entitled to theirs. I accept that. And, like I said, my only intention is to maybe get others to change or at least think about changing the way that they see, think and act towards people like myself who smoke pot. Now, a story of an individual who has smoked pot since 1969 and in the eyes of some would be deemed a pothead who's brain cells should all be dead by now. A person unable to function in society according to some. Please read my story and judge for yourself when you are finished.

One night last summer, the fire alarms in my building went off and as usual, there I was, just stoned and chillin'. As soon as this sound registered in my brain, this is what this 49 year old pothead who has smoked all these years did. Knowing that many times previous, it turned out to be a false alarm or some dust burning on a stove, I went to investigate and in doing so, found smoke pouring out from under a door. You could smell it through out the whole block.

Peoples instincts kick in and everybody does what they feel they have to do in this situation. Now, I'm not sure how you think a pothead would react or think in this situation, but let me tell you how this one did. I knew that a hearing impaired individual lived in the apartment where the smoke was coming from and if they were sleeping, they would never here the alarm. So, myself and another individual broke down the door and crawled into a room so thick with smoke, that you could barely breathe or see a foot in front of you. We got the lone occupant out and then went back in to see about taking care of the problem at hand.

What was going through my mind, was that I had to make sure that there was no fire to cause any real damage. And why this mattered to me, was for two reasons. First off, I did not see either of the two senior ladies living in my block outside the first time that I had to go out for air. I didn't know if they were still inside. Secondly, I remembered hearing stories about people who had lost everything they owned to a fire or some other disaster and did not have insurance to cover the losses. Some have been left destitute. With this in mind, I did what I had to do. The end result, was that everything worked out great, no one was injured and people went on with their lives.

Well, now that you have read my story it's all up to you and what you think. I have no control over that. Some may call what I did heroic, some may see it differently. We are all entitled to our own opinion about everything but our opinions can always change. And by me telling you this story, I sincerely hope that maybe, I've changed your opinion, in some way, about people like myself who smoke pot. Well, thank you for taking the time to read this and if you don't mind, may I ask you for a favor of kindness. Could you please pass this on to others, as I would like to reach as many people as I possibly can with the limited number of these pamphlets that I have had made up. And please, feel free to copy this into your computer if you are able and e-mail it to your friends or whom ever you like. Please also feel free to fax it to others. Now I leave it up to you.

Well, That's it for now but not for good. I shall return soon with another true life story for you to ponder and think about. And if you would like to share your opinion regarding this story with me by email, please do.

And at this time I would like to wish each and all a very long, healthy and happy life.

THE REV.....

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