As children of the swinging sixties grow up, the number of older people who admit they take illegal drugs has risen dramatically, a study has found.
Until now, illicit drug use has not been common in older people. However, it is likely to become more common as generations that use drugs more frequently reach an older age.
New research published in the journal Age and Ageing has found that the lifetime use of cannabis, amphetamine, cocaine and LSD in 50-64-year-olds has significantly increased since 1993 and is much higher than lifetime use in adults aged over 65. The study also found that drug use in inner London was higher than the overall UK average.
The study, entitled ‘Prevalences of illicit drug use in people aged 50 years and over from two surveys’, analysed data on illicit drug use from two household surveys. The most recent national survey included 2,009 people aged 65 and 1,827 people aged 55-65. The inner London survey included 284 and 176 people in these respective age groups
Cannabis was the most frequent drug used. Lifetime cannabis use was reported by 1.7% of people aged 65 and over and by 11.4% of people aged 50-64 in the England sample. In the inner London sample, these proportions were 9.4% and 42.8%, respectively.
Recent cannabis use (i.e. within the last 12 months) was reported by 0.4% of people aged 65 and over and by 1.8% of people aged 50-64 in the England sample.
In the inner London sample, these proportions were 1.1% and 9.0%, respectively. While the series of national surveys carried out from 1993 to 2007 did not contain data on the oldest end of the age range, patterns of cannabis use in middle age were consistent with a rapid increase – in 50-64-year-olds, lifetime use had increased approximately ten-fold from 1.0% in 1993 to 11.4% in 2007, and recent use had multiplied by a similar extent from 0.2% in 1993 to 2.0% in 2007.
Use of other illicit drugs is reported in the paper and remained substantially less common. Lifetime amphetamine use had increased substantially, although recent reported use remained uncommon. Tranquiliser use showed more stability.
Health experts were concerned that illicit drug use among the middle-aged could go unnoticed by doctors and nurses with risks to any future healthcare, operations or medical treatment they may need.
Reggae superstar Bob Marley advocated the use of marijuana as a religious sacrament for Rastafarians. I wonder if the figures would have been even higher had the researchers interviewed Rastafarians.