Want to work well into retirement? Try marijuana
Published: Mar 21, 2019 10:51 a.m. ET
Weed could push the hours we work higher.
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 doctor first.
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.”