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Study Ties Medical Marijuana to Productivity in Aging Workers

Study Ties Medical Marijuana to Worker Longevity
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

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Study Ties Medical Marijuana to Productivity in Aging Workers

Americans aged 51 and older are healthier and stay in the workforce longer when medical cannabis is available to them.

Aging in America takes a toll well before the body or the mind start to wither and slow. In fact, the perils of old age appear first in the wallet and the bank account. 

Age discrimination in the American workforce is nothing new — companies’ reluctance to hire workers over 40 was a problem Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s labor secretary noted in the 1940s. But as wages stay flat and housing costs continue to rise, older workers today find themselves in a particularly precarious position. 

Companies are happy to jettison their more experienced (and more expensive) employees for someone younger and cheaper, just as those older workers start to really, really need the medical benefits often available only through a job. The social toll this takes in a society where half the country has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession is obvious: It is not an accident that half of the country’s homeless population is over 50.

A full solution to this serious problem would be to restore the country’s social safety net. But in the short-term, it seems older people have to stay in the workforce. And according to recent research, one way to keep older Americans healthy and productive is to legalize medical marijuana.

Pain Relief and a Good Night’s Sleep

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and from Temple University looked at 100,000 responses to survey questions given by Americans aged 51 and older over a 20-year period between 1992 and 2012. During that period of time, 20 states had some form of medical marijuana law, though access varied widely on a state-by-state basis.

Researchers paid close attention to survey responses that “have a plausible link to one’s ability to work: frequency of pain, whether health limits work, overall health assessment, and depressive symptoms.” 

And in states where medical cannabis was legal, older adults who had a “health condition that would qualify for medical marijuana” experienced a 4.8 percent decrease in reported pain, and a 6.6 percent increase in “very good or excellent health,” according to the study, published in the most recent Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 

States with medical marijuana laws also experienced greater increases in full-time work compared to states without, according to the study, which was funded in part by the National Institute on Aging.

The study is significant not only for the good news it contains for older American workers, but as proof of medical marijuana’s legitimacy and efficacy. 

It also delivers a significant blow, in the form of data, to ridiculous, prohibitionist arguments that legalized cannabis somehow leads to decreases in productivity. 

“Our study is important because of the limited availability of clinical trial data on the effects of medical marijuana,” Lauren Hersch Nicholas, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, said in a press release provided by JHU. “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.”

The study also provides a very obvious explanation for why cannabis is proving so popular among baby boomers. Cannabis is an effective sleep aid and is effective in treating chronic pain, two of the joys of aging and two significant barriers to keeping healthy long enough to be a productive worker.

It would be a fine and good thing to not require Americans to work from cradle to the grave (if for no other reason that 20 percent of the population will be 60 or older by 2050 per recent projections, a time when robots will be doing all of the work anyhow). But until then — and even in a rosy scenario where older people can enjoy “retirement” — cannabis appears to provide them with appreciable benefits.

TELL US, do you or a loved one use cannabis to augment your productivity?

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