International Psychogeriatrics

Research Article

Marijuana use among older adults in the U.S.A.: user characteristics, patterns of use, and implications for intervention

Diana M. DiNitto c1 and Namkee G. Choi


Background: Epidemiological studies show that the number of older adults using marijuana is increasing. This study aimed to determine the correlates and patterns of marijuana use among older adults that might help health and social service providers better assist this group.

Methods: Data are from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S.A. The sample consisted of 5,325 adults aged 50 years and older.

Results: Of the sample, 2.8% were past-year marijuana users. Of them, 23% had used marijuana on at least half the days of the year. Past-year users were more likely to be younger (50–64 years old), black, and not married, and they had significantly higher psychological distress scores, but they did not rate their health as poorer than others in the sample, nor did they attribute many problems, including psychological problems, as being related to their marijuana use. Nevertheless, past-year users present a high-risk profile because, in addition to frequent marijuana use, they also are more likely to smoke cigarettes, engage in binge drinking, and use other illicit drugs.

Conclusions: Health and social service providers should be alert to the small number of routine marijuana users among the younger members of the older adult population, especially those suffering significant psychological distress, so that these individuals can be encouraged to utilize services that will help alleviate this distress and promote a healthier lifestyle and increase general well being.

(Received August 25 2010)

(Revised September 28 2010)

(Revised October 06 2010)

(Accepted October 07 2010)

(Online publication November 25 2010)


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr. Diana DiNitto, School of Social Work, i University Station, D3500, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712-0358, U.S.A. Phone: +1 512 471 9227; Fax: +1 512 471 9600. Email: