Cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and other drugs are, stereotypically, vices of teenagers and young adults who get caught up with the wrong crowd. But illicit drug use is becoming increasingly common among older generations, too, at least in England.
A new study that surveyed thousands of British found that, in less than a decade, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of people, ages 50 to 64, who said they had recently used marijuana. For people 65 to 74, the number of recent pot-smokers was twice as high in 2007 as it was in 2000.
When the researchers looked at overall lifetime use, they also found a tenfold increase for amphetamines, cocaine and LSD from 1993 to 2007 in 50- to 64-year-olds.
Cannabis was by far the most commonly used drug among older people, with just under 2 percent of Brits in the 50-64 group and 0.4 percent of the 65-plus group saying they had used it in the last year. Rates were higher in inner London, where 9 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds said they had used marijuana and related drugs in the previous year, and 42 percent said they had used it at some point in their lives.
Total percentages were fairly low, but enough older people seem to be using drugs that, the researchers say, doctors should pay more attention to possible effects that illicit substances might be having on their patients’ health.
“Our data suggest at the very least that large numbers of people are entering older age groups with lifestyles about which we know little in terms of their effects on health and would benefit from further monitoring,” the team wrote in the journal Age and Ageing.
“The key message of this paper confirms something which has been long-suspected but which has not, to our knowledge, ever been formally investigated in the UK,” said one of the study’s authors, Robert Stewart, from King's College London, in a press release. “Illicit drug use will become a more common feature in older generations over the next one to two decades. One particular issue is that we really know very little about the effects of drugs like cannabis in older people but will need to work fast if research is to keep up with its wider use at these ages."