States that passed laws that allow the use of medical marijuana saw a significant boost to older Americans’ workforce participation, according to a new working paper from researchers at Johns Hopkins and Temple University. States with medical marijuana laws also saw proper adjustments in overall health for older men, although the health effects for older women were more mixed. Like many recent studies investigating the impacts of marijuana laws, this one compared what happened in medical marijuana states before and after the passage of medical pot provisions, and compared them to trajectories in similar states that did not implement medical marijuana.

The study found that among individuals age 50 and older, “Passage of leads to a 9.4 percent increase in the probability of employment and a 4.6 percent to 4.9 percent increase in hours worked per week.” Why the boost to employment? Simply put, overall health appeared to be better in states with medical marijuana laws. Part of the reason men rated their health better is because they were in less pain: the passage of a medical marijuana law led to roughly a 10 percent drop in the percent of men saying they experienced pain.

“Surprisingly, among women we find evidence that passage of that provides legal access to the product increases the probability of reporting pain in the full sample by 1.3 percentage points.” Nonetheless, the study found that like men, older women were about 5 percent more likely to report “Very good” or “Excellent” health after the passage of medical marijuana.

While the difference between men and women is puzzling, a recent Columbia University study offers a clue: Smoking marijuana provides more pain relief for men than for women, for reasons not yet fully understood. A surprising amount of new research suggests that older Americans will be much more affected by changes to marijuana law than previously thought. Middle-aged Americans are now more likely to use marijuana than their teenage children, and the fastest increases in marijuana use are being seen among Americans age 55 and up. The research is also starting to suggest that older marijuana users may benefit from better quality of life in their golden years.

As with any drug – recreational or medical – there are risks associated with marijuana use. Driving while under the influence of marijuana is particularly dangerous, and marijuana use does carry a risk of dependency. As the latest working paper shows, there are benefits to more widespread availability of medical marijuana that could result in a significant improvement in the quality of life, particularly for older Americans.

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