Concern about side effects of narcotics and interest in more legal medical choices are leading to more seniors looking into cannabis options.
According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, between 2011-14 in Washington
state, the number of people who have used cannabis over the age of 65 increased from 0.9
percent to 2.4 percent.
At Cannabis & Glass, a Spokane retailer, none of the senior customers interviewed wanted to comment due to concerns about marijuana’s lingering social stigma and the current political climate. However the store staff said business from people in their 60s, 70s continues to grow.
“I have a 93-year-old customer that comes in a couple times a week,” said budtender Jacob Falconer. “She uses it for her arthritis because she doesn’t want to use opiates.”
Falconer said many older customers prefer cannabis that’s high in CBD, a molecular compound that doesn’t cause psychoactive reactions – the “high” associated with marijuana – but is believed to reduce pain and anxiety.
“We have this younger lady come in with MS and she swears by it,” he said. “We also get a lot of older people coming in and they don’t know anything about CBD.”
Last year, Washington merged its recreational and medical marijuana systems, which Falconer said may have confused some medical patients, especially more elderly ones. They may have known what they liked and how to get it from a dispensary, but not necessarily the distinctions between CBD and THC, another compound. They also may not have known what to do at the rec stores, or had fears that they can only buy items to make them high.
“I have customers with a plethora of issues that they use cannabis for,” said Nadya Kulinich, another budtender at Cannabis & Glass. “One older lady came in looking for relief for menopause with her friends. She was told that hormones could help her, but didn’t want to go that way — she wanted to go with something more natural instead.”
Neither Kulinich or Falconer have medical training, and only one employee at Cannabis & Glass has medical experience in how to talk about medical marijuana. But they are happy to help customers with their selections and explain the current system.
“We tell customers, ‘We’re not doctors, so we can’t tell you how to use it medically,’ but we can tell them what we’ve researched ourselves, and our own experiences,” Falconer said.
Kulinch has met several customers with damage to their digestive system due to chemotherapy who have found relief with cannabis.
“It makes me feel absolutely ecstatic that older people are able to find an option other than what they‘ve been prescribed,” Kulinich said. “It makes me relieved that people realize there are options out there that are not as damaging and destructive as opioids or other things that they’ve been prescribed.”
A recent study, “The Increasing Use of Cannabis Among Older Americans: A Public
Health Crisis or Viable Policy Alternative?” indicated that cannabis use in senior-aged people may be a viable alternative to prescription medications, including pain relief.
But there are also studies that have opposite conclusions: “The effect of cannabis use on memory function” by Tabea Schoeler and Sagnik Bhattacharyya indicated that long term use of cannabis has been linked to a decrease in memory. Some users can experience anxiety, paranoia, dry mouth, and a range of other minor side effects,
Falconer said “lack of side effects” is a consistent reason why older customers come in.
“They’re already on other medications and a lot of them come in trying to get off those,” he said. “That makes it worthwhile right there.”
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