Senior citizens in Colorado have identified a number of barriers that prevent them from purchasing medical marijuana at the state’s dispensaries.

Cannabis use is soaring among Americans aged 60 and over, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which polls 70,000 people. Yet there are still many people within this demographic that avoid purchasing medical marijuana and the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus set out to discover why.

Researchers visited senior centres, health clinics, and dispensaries in 13 different counties and spoke to 140 people in a range of focus groups. Some used cannabis and others did not.

They found five key barriers that have prevented older Americans from sourcing medicinal cannabis: a lack of research and education; a lack of communication from doctors; a lack of access to medical cannabis; a lack of information about the effects of cannabis use; and a reluctance to discuss cannabis use with healthcare professionals due to the perceived stigma attached to it.

Some participants mentioned the movie Reefer Madness and other “anti-marijuana propaganda adverts” that negatively framed cannabis as immoral and illegal, the researchers said.

The study found that senior citizens use cannabis for pain management or to treat anxiety or depression. Many likened cannabis use to alcohol and said they preferred the effects of marijuana. Some said they are more likely to pay extra to buy recreational cannabis in order to prevent an awkward conversation with a healthcare provider.

Several respondents said they prefer using cannabis to taking highly addictive prescription opioids. They expressed a desire for their healthcare providers to educate them better about their options when it comes to medical marijuana and any risks.

“From a physician’s standpoint this study shows the need to talk to patients in a non-judgmental way about cannabis,” said co-author Hillary Lum, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Doctors should also educate themselves about the risks and benefits of cannabis and be able to communicate that effectively to patients.”

Lum believes that Colorado should be at the forefront of educating people about cannabis use and breaking down stigmas.