Marijuana may be the secret to older people working
longer. It could push the hours we work
A new study published in the spring
2019 issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management finds
that the passage of medical marijuana laws seems to help reduce pain levels and
increase the number of hours worked by older adults.
“Three principle findings emerge
from our analysis,” the study authors reveal. “First, active state medical
marijuana laws lead to lower pain and better self-assessed health among older
adults. Second, state medical marijuana laws lead to increases in older adult
labor supply … Third, the effects of medical marijuana laws are largest among
older adults with a health condition that would qualify for legal medical
marijuana use under current state laws.”
The results were significant: Among
those who — because of a health issue — would qualify for medical marijuana in
their state, the researchers found a 4.8% decrease in pain and a 6.6% increase
in reported good or excellent health. They also found a 7.3% increase in levels
of full-time work among people who qualified for medical marijuana.
“Medical marijuana laws increased
hours worked by those who were already working … and increased the share of
older adults who were working full time versus not working or working
part-time,” explains Lauren Hersch Nicholas, an assistant professor in the
Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. However, she
notes that there was “no change in movement in and out of the labor force, so
medical marijuana laws didn’t seem to delay retirement or allow people to
return to work if they had already stopped working.”
The researchers analyzed more than
100,000 survey responses from people ages 51 and older over 20 years. They then
matched the dates when medical marijuana laws took effect to the survey
responses to track the possible effects of these policy changes.
Of course, this doesn’t prove that
the laws cause these positive pain and labor force effects, but it does
strongly hint that medical marijuana may be a key to cutting pain and
lengthening the ability to work for older people, the researchers concluded.
“We think that the increase in hours worked reflects 3 factors: 1) better
symptom control, such as less pain for some users; 2) fewer work-precluding
side effects for users switching from other treatment regimens such as opioid
pain management; 3) reduced need to supply caregiving for family members who
can now use medical marijuana for symptom relief,” says Hersch Nicholas.
That finding may speak to many of
us, as Americans plan to work longer: Indeed, more than half of people ages 35
and older say they expect to work past age 65, according to data from AARP.
More than one in 10 expect to work in their 80s and beyond.
It’s important to note that
marijuana is not without serious side effects: The Mayo Clinic says that
it can cause cognitive impairment, headache, dizziness, fatigue and paranoid
thinking, among other effects. And no one should take it without consulting a
According to the National Conference
of State Legislatures, more than 30 states have some kind of medical
marijuana law on the books. The Mayo Clinic shows that it may help with
conditions like glaucoma, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment,
pain, seizures and muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis.
“Our study is important because of
the limited availability of clinical trial data on the effects of medical
marijuana,” says Nicholas said in a statement. (More than half of older adults
in the study reported one or more chronic condition with symptoms that could be
treated with medical marijuana.) “While several studies point to improved pain
control with medical marijuana, research has largely ignored older adults even
though they experience the highest rates of medical issues that could be
treated with medical marijuana.”
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