The number of baby boomers turning (or returning) to marijuana is on the rise. A new federal survey finds that the percentage of Americans 50 and older who use the drug has increased from 1.9 percent in 2002 to 2.9 percent in 2008.

The jump was most pronounced among 55- to 59-year-olds, with the rate more than tripling from 1.6 to 5.1 percent. Experts expect the rates to continue their upward trend as baby boomers age.

For some seniors, dope is proving to be the best medicine. A recent CBS article featured the story of 67-year-old Perry Parks, of Rockingham, N.C., who has tried everything from Vioxx to epidural steroids to combat the pain he suffers as a result of arthritis and a degenerative disc disease. Approximately two years ago, Parks finally found the relief he was seeking in marijuana. Now, says Parks, he is “essentially pain free.”

Pot, however, is not a panacea for seniors, who need to use the drug wisely. Some negative side effects include dizziness, which can lead to falls, as well as an increased risk of heart disease and cognitive impairment.

For more on boomers, see:

Report: Younger boomers and Gen X most affected by recession

The boomers are coming – again

Boomers: At the retirement crossroads