Worried your teen kids are smoking pot? Don’t be. New research by the Centers for Disease Control suggests the 55-and-older crowd is much more likely to hit that vape or chow down on an edible after dinner.
Regular weed use among people between the ages of 55 and 64 is up 455 percent since 2002. (Yes, 455 percent.) Among seniors 65 years and older, cannabis use is up 333 percent. Now compare that to only 7.4 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 years old who admitted to smoking pot recently.
If current trends continue, seniors could overtake younger Americans as the largest weed generation.
The resurgence of marijuana use among the generation responsible for those infamous D.A.R.E. campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s illustrates how much social perceptions have shifted in regard to cannabis. Today’s rhetoric is less about weed being a dangerous gateway drug and more about the promising properties of medicinal marijuana. Even California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher publicly talked about using MMJ to deal with arthritis pain.
That’s where Green Soldiers Healers Collective comes into play. The small, Los Angeles-area group serves a wide variety of patients with just about every kind of ailment you can imagine. Many of their patients who are first-time users may be concerned about this new form of alternative medicine.
“What happens with a lot of our older patients is that they’re doing these opiate treatments, whether it be oxycontin or valium or even morphine, and a lot of times there are a lot of side effects those patients go through,” says Lucas, co-founder of Green Soldiers Healers.
“A lot of our patients want to try an alternative medicine that is going to treat their pain but not interfere with their daily lives.”
(Lucas and his mother/business partner, Denise, asked that their last names not be printed due to privacy concerns.)
One of the most frequently asked questions Lucas gets from new patients is how to avoid getting high while treating infirmities. For those patients, Lucas recommends cannabidiol (CBD) products, such as tinctures or topical treatments. This option is especially important for elderly or disabled patients who can’t run the risk of falling or passing out.
“Sometimes there is resistance because they feel [cannabis] is a drug, but then we break down the prescription medications they’re already taking and they realize how toxic those can be,” says Lucas’ mother and business partner Denise. “Some of our patients have smoked for many years, but most others have never done it before in their entire lives.”
Denise is especially patient with nervous first-timers. She considers them extensions of her own family and uses her experience with an aging father to gently coax skittish customers. Her dad, now 89 years old, remained deeply suspicious of his daughter’s insistence that he turn to alternative medicine to alleviate symptoms associated with cancer. Denise, a regular cannabis user for the last three decades, encouraged her dad to try something less harsh after noticing how much his medication was impacting his daily routine. This conversation went on for about a year until one day he became weak and disoriented while working in the backyard. He fell into the pool and landed in the shallow end, but he cracked a collarbone in the process. His doctors prescribed opiate treatment that did little to lessen the pain. Denise applied a topical CBD treatment and her father felt better almost instantly.
“It was an ‘Oh, wow’ moment,” she says.
Denise and her son encourage new patients to sit in on a kind of orientation for first-time users. They explain the different options available to them — everything from CBD products to THC edibles — and how each medication works. They break down concentration levels, strain types and dosage amounts. Edibles are even tested for sugar levels since many older patients suffer from diabetes or have low immune systems that require carefully regulated diets.
“You don’t need to be feeding them all that extra stuff,” Denise says.
“I explain to my patients that cannabis products will get rid of a lot of negative things they’re feeling with opiates. Plus, a lot of times those prescriptions stop working after a while.”
But the biggest challenge Denise and Lucas encounter is getting patients to ask questions in the first place. Baby boomers tend to be more open on the subject, though many laugh at the prospect of picking up a habit they long ago abandoned. For elderly people, it’s all about making them feel comfortable, Denise says. She founded a meet-up group for Southern California seniors interested in exploring medical cannabis to help counter some of this shyness. While more than 100 people have joined the online group, getting them to meet in person remains a barrier.
“They’re not used to talking about their cannabis use,” she says. “We’re still very much in the gray when it comes to medical marijuana, but slowly more people are coming into the light.”