Qualitative Analysis of Cannabis Use Among Older Adults in Colorado



Although the rate of cannabis use by older adults is increasing more quickly than all other age groups, little is known about the reasons why older adults use cannabis and the outcomes they experience.


The objective of this study was to identify the most salient themes concerning the use of medical and recreational cannabis by older adults living in Colorado. Specifically, we sought to (1) characterize perceptions of cannabis use by users and non-users, (2) determine how older adults access cannabis, and (3) explicate both positive and negative outcomes associated with cannabis use.


Between June and November 2017, we conducted 17 focus groups in senior centers, health clinics, and cannabis dispensaries in 15 Colorado cities. Participants included 136 persons aged over 60 years who were both users and non-users of cannabis. We coded and analyzed session transcripts using thematic analysis with NVivo software.


We identified 16 codes from which five main themes emerged. These themes included: a lack of education and research about cannabis, a lack of provider communication, access to medical cannabis, the outcomes of cannabis use, and a reluctance to discuss cannabis use.


Older adults want more information about cannabis and desire to communicate with their healthcare providers. Older adults who used cannabis for medical purposes reported positive outcomes but highlighted difficulties in accessing medical cannabis. Older adults in Colorado also revealed how a stigma continues to be attached to using cannabis.

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The authors acknowledge Emma Cole, Karrey Shannon, and Natalie Noonan for their assistance with project management.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julie Bobitt.

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This study was supported by funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Conflict of interest

Julie Bobitt, Sara Qualls, Melissa Schuchman, Robert Wickersham, Hillary Lum, Kanika Arora, Gary Milavetz, and Brian Kaskie have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this study.

Ethics approval

We received approval from the Institutional Review Boards of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and The University of Iowa for this study.

Informed consent

All participants provided their consent before taking the survey and participating in the focus groups.

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Bobitt, J., Qualls, S.H., Schuchman, M. et al. Qualitative Analysis of Cannabis Use Among Older Adults in Colorado. Drugs Aging 36, 655–666 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40266-019-00665-w

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