Who Uses Medical Cannabis the Most? Boomers

Like many of us, you may have assumed it’s millennials driving the cannabis wellness revolution. That’s a fair guess—as a Gallup poll from 2018 indicated, nearly one in four millennials use cannabis—but like many assumptions, it’s not actually correct. When it comes to cannabis and wellness, a new survey shows it’s a different generation that leaves millennials in the dust: Baby Boomers.

Commissioned by cannabis company Verilife, the survey clearly demonstrates that boomers (defined here as those between the ages of 56 and 74) far outpace millennials (defined here as those between 24 and 39) when it comes to medical cannabis use. Querying some 1,000 cannabis-consuming representatives of each group, the survey found that boomers turn to medical cannabis at over twice the rate of millennials, 50% compared with 22%. By comparison, 49% of surveyed millennials consumed cannabis recreationally as opposed to the 28% of boomers who responded “Yes!”

In some regards, the results aren’t surprising. After all, it’s during middle age that most chronic conditions and symptoms show up. But the survey is a valuable tool for understanding how perceptions, attitudes and cannabis usage has changed, and how these shifts are in turn affected by the aging process. Let’s break it down further.

Medical Cannabis Trends: Different Seasons, Different Reasons

In addition to millennials and boomers consuming cannabis with different goals in mind—medically vs recreationally—the survey delved into questions around specific symptoms. Nearly a quarter of millennials—some 27%—consumed medical cannabis to combat chronic pain, whereas for boomers, roughly the same percentage was split between arthritis (18%) and chronic pain (13%). Subduing migraines and nausea took 2nd and 3rd place among millennials, whereas mitigating the symptoms of cancer (and the side effects of its treatment) and migraines were the runners-up for boomers.

When it comes to intake method, both groups preferred inhaled cannabis (taken in the form of joints or blunts, pipes or bongs). Edibles ranked second (18% for millennials, 14% for boomers). The only marked discrepancy came in the use of capsules, one of the newest forms of administration. Only one in ten of millennials preferred this method, whereas nearly a quarter—some 23%—of boomers gravitated towards this format.

Again, to an extent these are the results one might expect, given commonly held assumptions about the respondents’ age groups. But it’s where the survey dove into assumptions and usage patterns that more surprising information surfaced.

Medical Cannabis Trends: Societal Assumptions, Changes in Cannabis Use

Let’s begin with the looming question around cannabis: What will my peers think? The survey asked all respondents simple up-or-down questions about perceptions around cannabis usage. Across both groups, 57% felt there were lingering cultural stigmas associated with cannabis usage. As a result, slightly less than half of millennials (46%) felt comfortable discussing their cannabis use with their primary care physician, as opposed to 60% of boomers. That said, around two thirds of all respondents—68% of millennials and 61% of boomers—would prefer cannabis over a prescription to manage pain relief.

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When it comes to actually consuming cannabis, assumptions about who “wakes and bakes”—and, more importantly, why—go out the window. In the morning and afternoon, at least, boomers are roughly twice as likely to consume cannabis than millennials. Consumption patterns are roughly equal in the evening, and then it’s millennials whose use outpaces boomers, by 25% to 14%. Interestingly, while previous surveys have identified insomnia as a major driver of cannabis use, either the topic of sleeplessness was left off this survey (or no respondents felt the need to report it).

Who do respondents consume cannabis with? Around 60% of both groups consume it with family members. But when it comes to cannabis and the workplace, once again it’s boomers in the lead. Whether asked if they consume with coworkers (or with a boss or manager), they responded positively over millennials by a wide margin.

Medical Cannabis Trends: Implications for Dispensaries

The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on cannabis use. Both groups spend an average of $76 a month on cannabis and cannabis-related products. Since the beginning of the pandemic, though, cannabis spending has risen roughly $27 per respondent (the survey was unclear on whether or not the $76 figure included that $27 monthly increase or not).

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But either way, it underscores what many in the cannabis industry already know: That cannabis is an increasingly important resource for users of all ages. And that if your dispensary isn’t appealing to seniors, you’re losing out on a vital segment of the cannabis-buying public.