Are Pensioners the New Stoners? Medical Marijuana and Seniors

Over the past twenty or so years, it’s fair to say there’s been an absolute boom in the growth of cannabis. What was once a recreational party drug sold on street corners and made federally illegal and stigmatized by misinformed politicians and racism is now starting to be recognized for what it really is: medicine.

Due to that massive growth, we’ve seen all types of people embrace the natural, healing power of cannabis. What might surprise many, however, is that one of the age groups that have taken to it the most are seniors!

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According to the Marijuana Policy Project, there are more than 4 million medical cannabis patients across the 35 states, four U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. And while cannabis isn’t often associated with the elders of our society, studies show that a significant chunk of those patients are seniors! In fact, of Oregon’s around 24,000 medical cannabis patients, the majority of them are between the age of 60-64!

Introducing medical cannabis to senior patients
Introducing medical cannabis to senior patients

Why is Medical Cannabis So Appealing to Seniors?

One obvious reason why medical cannabis use is increasing among those over 50 is that they are more likely to suffer from degenerative conditions associated with aging like arthritis, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and general aches and pains. It just so happens that many of those conditions and symptoms could be managed with some daily doses of medical cannabis.

It’s no secret that our bodies and immune systems start to break down as we age. Too often, however, do traditional doctors turn to harsh, addictive, prescription pills to heal deal with these issues. With so many Americans suffering from opioid addiction, it’s easy to see why someone would opt for something with little to no potential for addiction, with far fewer and more mild side effects than those associated with opioids.

On top of that, medical cannabis has been shown to be just as, if not more, effective at treating issues like chronic pain compared to synthetic opioids and has even shown to help those dealing with opioid dependency take fewer pills.

The other reason why marijuana use is increasing among seniors and the elderly is that it’s losing many of the stigmas attached to it. Simply put, legal cannabis is an ideal that nearly everyone can get their head around. According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults support the legalization of cannabis.

And when it comes to medical cannabis, the numbers are even more overwhelming. According to a recent poll, 93 percent of Americans support medical cannabis legalization.  As the research behind marijuana sheds more light on its potential benefits, many who may have held anti-marijuana stances in the past are essentially starting to “see the light” and question the notion of marijuana being a “drug”. Reefer doesn’t lead to madness, regardless of what the propaganda of the past tried to propagate.

The concept of marijuana as “medication” is gaining significant traction, and in many cases was already used medically in the synthetic form before medical marijuana became legal (e.g. Marinol, Dexanabinol).

Another thing to remember about the “increase” of use amongst the older segments of our society is that some of them were already users, it’s just that they developed conditions that allowed them to successfully apply for a medical card. They are probably also more likely to admit using cannabis as it becomes less taboo and legalized. Many of them grew up in the 60s and 70s, after all!

It’s also worth noting that as the Baby Boomer generation, who are inching closer to and closer to becoming seniors themselves, absolutely love their cannabis. According to a recent poll, Boomers are twice as likely to use cannabis medicinally when compared to millennials, citing issues like chronic pain, cancer, and arthritis as the driving factors.

As one of the largest generations ever starts to retire en masse, we’ve going to see many more of them feeling free to utilize the cannabis products they had always avoided during their professional lives. Of course, people tend to start using more medication as they get older, so perhaps part of the reason why cannabis is so popular amongst seniors is because they’re more likely to suffer from health problems. Millennials may well be using just as much if not far more tailored, unique and advanced medical marijuana products themselves in the future!

Seniors using marijuana

What Does the Science Say?

Due to the mainstreaming of cannabis over the past twenty or so years, we have a much deeper understanding of the many benefits of medical cannabis. Although societies have been using cannabis to benefit for thousands of years now, modern medical science means we have a deeper, fuller, and more comprehensive understanding of what, how, and why cannabis helps.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the most promising uses of medical cannabis for the oldest generations.

The Healthier Ways to Consume Cannabis

One of the main barriers to medical cannabis use – by seniors or otherwise – is because of its traditional route of administration: smoking. Regardless of the medical applications, the health-conscious were never going to embrace this aspect of marijuana readily. For those suffering from, say, cancer, the concept of smoking marijuana to relieve symptoms can seem a little backward – smoking anything can be harmful to health and contribute to the development of cancer, after all.

In the past, edibles were the way to avoid the smoking aspect of cannabis use, but measuring strength this way was far more difficult. Today, however, edibles are much more powerful and precise than they’ve ever been with direct dosage printed on labels.

Bongs were another potential option aside from a traditional joint, but were not necessarily much better for your lungs Then, as medical cannabis became more and more commonplace and people wanted smokeless alternatives, vaporizers became de rigeur. Vaporizers opened up the marijuana market to not only seniors with health problems, but also to athletes and a youth who are moving away from tobacco use and smoking in general. However, not all vapes are safe, so more research needs to be undertaken before we can say for definite that it is a safer way to consume cannabis (black maret vape pens are particularly problematic for this – logic would suggest that a Puffco or Volcano vaporizer is generally far safer than smoking).

A Deeper Understanding of Cannabinoids

The other area where science and research has improved when it comes to cannabis is the actual understanding of the plant itself. In the past, many growers were on a THC hunt. The whole objective was to produce plants with as much THC as they possibility could.Then, as the scientific evidence and research on the benefits of other naturally-occurring cannabinoids like CBD, CBN, CBG, THCv, THCa and terpenes like myrcene, linalool came to light, growers started to focus on breeding strains with higher concentrations of these compounds. This was combined with more and more patients and caregivers coming out and telling the world about using medical cannabis to treat some of the most difficult-to-treat conditions. This no doubt led to a sea change in how many people view cannabis, where even sceptics were starting to become convinced about the medical value of medical cannabis and targeting the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

This eventually led to CBD-heavy strains, which provide many of the anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea aspects of medical marijuana, but without the “high” associated with THC. This further cemented the idea of cannabis as medicine and is definitely one of the driving factors towards making marijuana use as “acceptable” by seniors and those who may have criticized its medical applications in the past.

The Bottom Line for Seniors

When it comes to medical cannabis and seniors, the verdict is as clear as day. The research is showing the many medical benefits of medical cannabis, the oldest generation is getting over the previous-held stigma associated with it, and, most importantly, it’s helping people dealing with serious medical issues and the symptoms associated with them.

So are pensioners the new stoners? Yes! But the reality is that they always were. They were just forced to do so with the protections, scientific research, and mainstream popularity that comes along with acceptance of the green medicine movement. We here at Leafwell certainly hope that trend continues in the right direction!

Download Your Guide to Medical Marijuana & Seniors.

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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