Stigma Keeps Seniors Away from Marijuana

After seeing family members for the holidays, you may be wondering if it's time to talk to the seniors in your life about marijuana. Or maybe it's your aging parents. You're wondering if they could benefit from marijuana or CBD.

They probably could enjoy better living with cannabis. But there's also a good chance they could completely freak out. You'll need to assess the situation carefully.

Cannabis Can Help with Medical Conditions Associated with Aging

senior talking to a doctor about aging and seniors and marijuana

Most elderly people report chronic pain. "Getting older," some older people boast, "is not for sissies." Arthritis is one of the most common complaints that causes persistent pain among seniors.

Many problems associated with aging are attributed to inflammation. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a cannabinoid found in both cannabis and hemp, and has natural anti-inflammatory benefits. Many seniors report that CBD helps with their chronic pain. But the benefits don't end there. There are numerous ways cannabis can help seniors, but they may understandably have fears and concerns.

Over the last few years, you've probably heard the headlines about seniors and marijuana. Increasingly, senior citizens are using cannabis for a wide range of ailments. Some turn to cannabis for relief from glaucoma, stiffness, bowel disease, or to help combat side effects of other treatments, like chemotherapy. Some patients even use high doses of cannabis to help treat their cancer. (Results are mixed, and the jury is still out on the efficacy of cannabis as a cancer treatment. But most oncologists agree that cannabis, in combination with conventional treatment, probably doesn't hurt.)

Whatever their medical condition, more seniors are turning to cannabis. And it's helping them feel better. As our biological systems being to slow down with age, we may be able to benefit from marijuana even more than we did in our youth. Our bodies process drugs differently as we get older, experts say. The way we experience a cannabis high – or the myriad of non-psychoactive benefits of hemp-derived CBD – may change as we age.

This means the medical potential for seniors and marijuana may hold even more promise than it does for young people. Because cannabis is federally illegal, research on medical benefits has been stunted. But preliminary studies are showing that cannabis may have neuroprotective benefits. The plant that has been mocked for causing "memory loss" may actually help protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. These personality-changing disorders can be among the most painful aspects of getting older.

Thanks to the news about seniors and marijuana, getting older is starting to sound a little better.

But many older folks are terrified by the prospect of accidentally getting high.

Changing the Stigma and Finding the Best Marijuana for Seniors

senior couple on the beach

Baby boomers and their parents were taught that there's something morally wrong, or unnatural, or lazy, in getting stoned. During their formative years, mainstream America was pretty anti-pot. Baby boomers lived through the Reefer Madness era, the Reagan years, the "Just Say No" campaign. They've been pretty heavily brainwashed.

Today, mainstream attitudes are changing. For the first time since polling began, polls show that the majority of Americans believe cannabis should be legalized. (It's one of the few issues that transcends party lines: the majority of Republican voters believe marijuana should be legal, too.)

For many seniors, the changing public attitudes are helping them change their personal attitude towards pot. And anytime a respected medical doctor flips on the issue – like CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta did a few years ago – it helps conservative seniors open their minds to the possibilities of pot.

On a local level, many medical doctors are helping lessen the stigma for seniors, too. Some doctors specialize in seniors and marijuana. In state where cannabis is legal, like California and Colorado, some dispensaries even include retirement communities in their community outreach efforts. Some schedule seminar-type outings to dispensaries. At the retirement or assisted living facilities, dozens of curious seniors will board a bus, destined for a dispensary. The dispensaries organize informational talks and meet-ups, tailored to seniors, and their specific ailments and fears. Visitors can learn about which products might help, and what might be the best marijuana for seniors.

Thanks to these non-threatening group settings with their peers, these outings appear to help seniors get over their fears about cannabis.

Many seniors interviewed by the press are extremely afraid of getting high. They're reportedly afraid of the "euphoria" associated with cannabis. (Raised in an America imbued with a Puritan work ethic, many people feel terrible about relaxing.)

They're also apprehensive about the way cannabis can change your perceptions. Getting stoned can take you out of your default mental mode. It's easy to see why this might be especially terrifying for seniors. If you've already lived several decades on this planet, without ever experimenting with changing your consciousness, it would be pretty scary to suddenly view life – or yourself – differently.

To combat this fear, some manufacturers are tailoring their products to seniors by producing "no euphoria" or "low euphoria" products.

CBD May Be the Best Marijuana for Seniors

cbd oil jar stacked on spa rocks, CBD might be the best marijuana for seniors

If you're looking for the best cannabis-related advice for Grandma (and she's never gotten stoned before), you may want to stick to CBD products that are derived from hemp. Because they only contain THC in negligible trace amounts, Grandma will not get stoned. And CBD's heroic anti-inflammatory properties could, at the very least, help with her arthritis.

Or maybe Grandma and Grandpa are ready to get stoned after all. If so, you may want to help prepare them for their first experience with THC. Some seniors who ingest too much cannabis find it horribly distressing.

One senior in Colorado spoke to UCHealth Today. Nobody had adequately explained the psychoactive effects of cannabis to her, she says.

"I got so high," after visiting a dispensary, she says. "It was awful. I was having all kinds of hallucinations. My poor husband was freaked out. We got home and it was worse and worse. We called 911. I didn't know if you could overdose."

If the seniors in your life say they're experiencing negative effects after consuming cannabis, you can help them get into bed, or help them lie down on the couch. Making them some tea couldn't hurt. If they're worried about overdosing, you can remind them that nobody has ever died from cannabis.

Reminding people to relax while they're stoned can be helpful. Seniors who have been treated by conventional doctors (in other words, pretty much all seniors) are more accustomed to drugs that work in a very predictable way. When it comes to opioids, or painkillers like Tylenol, the results are pretty straightforward. You take a pill, and you experience pain relief. Tylenol doesn't make you think differently, or experience your reality more intimately.

This is a big change. If the seniors you love are ready to try getting stoned, you may need to help them bridge this transition.

Some Doctors Don't Recommend THC for Seniors

holding cannabis leaves

Some doctors caution against seniors using marijuana because of possible drug interactions. There may be some contraindication with blood thinners, which are commonly taken by seniors.

Some medical practitioners say seniors should not be smoking anything. Smoking can have deleterious effects on lung health.

Topical applications can be great for arthritic joints (and they don't get people high). A transdermal patch could be a non-threatening way for seniors to experiment with cannabinoids, too. (Nothing seems recreational, or "euphoric," about applying something that looks like a nicotine patch.)

Tinctures or edibles could be perfect, too. Some seniors report that they feel best after a 10:1 ratio of CBD to THC, but like with everyone, it's best to experiment to figure out what works best for you. If the seniors in your life love drinking tea, you could look for a distillate powder with CBD and THC, which they could easily dissolve into beverages.

But Grandma may not be ready for a dab. On the other hand, maybe she is. You could show her a YouTube account called "Mary Loves Glass." This YouTube channel was created by a senior named Mary, to show the world that grandmas enjoy smoking pot, too. (Mary takes bong hits and dabs on camera.)

Moving Away from Conventional Treatment

senior citizen holding lots of pills in his hand

A doctor named Mikhail Kogan, M.D., is the medical director of the George Washington University Center for Integrative Medicine. He's been prescribing CBD to his patients since 2011. Kogan told AARP, a publication for seniors, that cannabinoids are “safer than Tylenol or caffeine by tenfold." And opioids? "About 10,000 times safer," he says. (He usually recommends sublingual tinctures to his patients.)

However, cannabis and CBD can be expensive for seniors to afford. Because cannabis is still federally illegal, it’s not covered by Medicare or other health insurance providers. Seniors must pay for their medical marijuana entirely out of pocket. Because most seniors live on fixed incomes, this can be challenging.

Knowledge about cannabis or CBD products might be one of the best gifts you can give to the seniors you love this year. Maybe Grandma will become a cannabis activist. When cannabis is federally legalized, scientists will be better able to conduct research on how cannabis interacts with aging bodies, brains, and traditional medications. And maybe someday, seniors can have their cannabis regimen covered by Medicare.