The generation gap in cannabis culture

Posted on November 20th, 2019 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , .
cannabisBoomers are using cannabis more, with many turning to the herb as medicine to deal with the challenges of advancing years. They are also the generation that began the demographic tilt in favor of legalization. And unlike the "Zoomers" of Generation Z, they are resisting the lure of extracts in favor of old-fashioned dried flowers.

As the generation associated with the hippies of the 1960s, it's hardly surprising that the "Baby Boomers" appear to have progressive attitudes toward cannabis.

Of course, such categories are inherently generalizing. "Boomers" can be taken to mean anyone born in a post-World War II baby boom lasting well into the 1960s. So many Boomers were still rugrats when their elder siblings or cousins were turning on, tuning in and dropping out in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury or New York's East Village. And their progressive views may not extend to every issue—Boomers have notoriously gotten some very bad press recently.

Yet, if polls are to be believed, the latest indicates that a strong majority of Boomers support legalization.

A study just released from the Pew Research Center finds that two-thirds of Americans say the use of cannabis should be legal, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade. The share of US adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52% in 2010 to 32% today, Pew says.

Providing a generational breakdown, Pew tells us that majorities of Millennials (defined as those born between 1981 and 1997), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) say canabis use should be legal. Boomers are found to be 63% in favor. They are about tied with the Gen X demographic, which clocks in at 65%. Millennials are in the lead, at 76%—indicating steady progress. Only members of the so-called Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) continue to be mostly opposed to legalization, with only 35% in favor.

That means—again, hardly surprisingly—that the cultural shift on cannabis began with the Boomers.

The generational divide was found to exist in both political parties—although, once again not surprisingly, Democrats appear to support legalization in larger numbers. Boomer Democrats supporting legalization clock in at 81%), Gen X Dems at 76%, and Millennial Dems at 78%—compared with 53% of Silent Generation Dems.

Boomers using more as they age

Boomers also appear to be using cannabis at much higher rates than in the past. 

Cannabis use among seniors in the US has risen tenfold over as many years—apparently due, at least in large part, to Boomers using it to treat ailments such as chronic pain, anxiety and depression. These are the findings of a University of Colorado study, "Qualitative Analysis of Cannabis Use Among Older Adults in Colorado," reported on by MSBC in June.  Citing data from the National Survey of Drug Use & Health, the study found that some 3.7% of US adults age 65 or older used cannabis in the past year, up from 0.3% in 2007. In 2017, 9.4% of those aged 60 to 64 reported using cannabis in the past year, up from 1.9% 10 years before that.

Study co-author Dr. Hillary Lum was cited as saying that as more states legalize medical and adult-use cannabis, the number of the aging who turn to the herb is expected to rise.

Indeed, a growing number of nursing homes from coast to coast are tolerating use of cannabis tinctures and extracts to combat dementia, insomnia and related ailments. And use of cannabis to fight dementia is now under study by researchers in Australia.

There may be a case that legalization has changed life the most for people in this age group.

Perhaps counterintuitively, evidence suggests that youth cannabis use has actually declined in states that have legalized. "Colorado teens stubbornly refuse to smoke more weed" was the smart-alecky headline in the Washington Post in June 2016. The story noted Colorado Health Department findings that rates of use among the state's teens were essentially unchanged in the years since cannabis was legalized there in 2012. "The survey shows marijuana use has not increased since legalization, with four of five high school students continuing to say they don’t use marijuana, even occasionally," the health department stated.

Paradoxically, as more Boomers turn to cannabis in a more tolerant environment, it may lose its allure for youth seeking to assert a distinct identity. The same rebellious impulse that led the hippies to embrace cannabis 50 years ago may be leading kids to reject it today. This tendency could even be seen as early as the 1980s, with the emergence of the "straight-edge" punk sub-culture. 

Generation gap in consumption methods?
Although research on this question has yet to be done, there is likely a significant generation gap in favored consumption methods for cannabis. The current wave of serious pulmonary illness associated with vaping has disproportionately affected youth. 

Just as the upcoming Generation Z—sometimes derisively called Zoomers—are immersed in wireless and cellular culture while many of their elders may cling to their land-lines, they may also embrace dabbing and vaping with concentrated extracts while the Boomers continue to roll joints and pass around hash-pipes. 

And here, at risk of counter-productive lecturing that will merely entrench Gen Z dab culture, it should be noted that in response to the vaping health scare, experts have emphasized that herbaceous cannabis is the safest form to use.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Photo by prensa420

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