Seniors are discovering — or rediscovering in many cases — the benefits of cannabis usage.
Crystal Plotner, general manager and co-owner of local dispensary Pharm to Table, is experiencing the senior boom firsthand.
She has crunched the numbers at Pharm to Table and says use among seniors has more than doubled at her dispensary, going from 4.5 percent of customers in January 2017 to almost 11 percent in May 2018.
“Lots of times seniors may come in for ointments, then move to CBD, and then to edibles.” To meet this demand and take advantage of the trend, her dispensary now offers a senior discount.
She says it’s heartening to see three generations of families shopping together, all picking out something different making it a pro-health, pro-family experience.
Plotner says her own grandmother, who has had nothing to do with marijuana, now uses topicals for her arthritis.
What Plotner is seeing locally is backed up by statewide statistics.
The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program published a statistical snapshot in April 2017 that showed most medical marijuana cardholders ranged from 55 to 69 years old, with the biggest group in the 60- to 64-year-old age group.
As co-chair of the Senior Living and Long-Term Care Team at the law firm Lane Powell in Portland, Gabriella Sanchez has devoted her career to understanding the challenges faced by long-term care, senior housing, and home health and hospice providers. Lane Powell has a cannabis practice, and Sanchez has expertise with seniors and cannabis usage.
“I do believe that marijuana use in the senior population is certainly on the rise, and we will only see the numbers go up as the boomers start to age and enter the senior housing/care market.”
There are many reasons for the increase in usage among older people. Some seniors are baby boomers who haven’t smoked in 40 years but want to try again. Others hear about the health benefits through word of mouth and want to try to ease pain and save money on prescription medications. Others try cannabis at the urging of their grandkids.
There’s no question that making cannabis legal has eased the stigma of usage.
“Seniors are so much more accepting of using than they used to be,” says Robert Platshorn, founder of Silver Tour in Florida, whose mission is to educate seniors about medical cannabis.
Platshorn has put together a video on his own activism and the benefits to seniors titled “Should Grandma Smoke Pot?” It has almost 100,000 views on YouTube.
“The stigma is certainly lessened,” Sanchez agrees. “Marijuana use is becoming more mainstream, especially as boomers start making their way into the long-term care system.”
Seniors are embracing cannabis for quality of life, pain relief and health benefits.
A recent study compiled by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that the most common indications for cannabis treatment were pain (66.6 percent) and cancer (60.8 percent). After six months of treatment, 93.7 percent of the respondents reported improvement in their condition, and the reported pain level was reduced from a median of 8 on a scale of 0-10 to a median of 4. The study concluded “the therapeutic use of cannabis is safe and efficacious in the elderly population. “
Another benefit the study found: “Cannabis use may decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids.”
Cannabis also helps with the nausea that can come with cancer treatment, and can enhance the appetites of seniors who have lost the desire to eat, the study said.
Other studies have shown that marijuana also helps with glaucoma by reducing high eye pressure, and in terms of quality of life, cannabis can ease depression and anxiety.
Sanchez recommends that seniors check with their doctors to make sure marijuana will not interact with medications they are taking or aggravate existing conditions.
For seniors in assisted living, she says, “I also recommend seniors follow community rules regarding marijuana use, because if the senior is in a nursing facility it is unlikely they will be permitted to use marijuana, and could be subject to involuntary transfer.
“In communities that do permit marijuana, the senior should notify staff before using marijuana so that the community can assess the senior and place necessary interventions to protect the person.”
Seniors should be sure to choose the marijuana that’s right for them. Some seniors may want CBD with no psychoactive properties; some may be more concerned with getting a good night’s sleep; some may want a little buzz and pain relief but with a goal of staying active.
Budtenders at local dispensaries can sometimes help seniors navigate strains to ensure their needs are met.
The delivery method is also important to consider. It’s a whole new world to navigate, from oils to prerolls to vapes to edibles. All of these can affect the user experience. Boomers revisiting cannabis after many years of abstinence may get a shock. The strains are much more powerful than back in the day, so they may want to go slow.
Jefferson Reeder is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.