A Look into Why Seniors are Leading Cannabis into the Future
Seniors are at the forefront of the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry.
Those ages 50 and above are among the largest growing demographic in the industry — yet, stigma and lack of access prevent many from seeking holistic approaches to healthcare.
Senior outreach programs have become prevalent in the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana in the U.S. In Washington state for example, more than a dozen assisted living facilities have incorporated cannabis policies so far, according to the AARP. Additionally Harborside Health Centers offer monthly information sessions and support groups exclusively for seniors.
Awareness and outreach are key, but so is the creation of safe spaces. Next year, California will welcome iCANN, the first dispensary designed specifically with seniors in mind, said Sue Taylor, founder and executive director of the facility.
The 4,000 ft. Berkeley-based, licensed dispensary will welcome patients of all ages, Taylor added, but “what makes it’s different; it caters to the needs of seniors” by offering consultations, and informative classes on topics like “which strains are best for which illnesses.”
The dispensary will also feature a community room; employ a geriatric nurse; offer a large array of medicinal CBD and low THC products, including topicals and flowers.
Taylor is a nationally renowned speaker, author and advocate in the fields of cannabis and aging. She’d held positions on the the Commission of Aging (Berkeley), Harborside Health Centers, and the South Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Board, among several notable roles.
She’s a trusted face of cannabis movement, a position she’s never thought she’d be in.
Taylor was introduced to cannabis by her son, and was immediately taken aback when he brought up the subject. “I had viewed cannabis like a hard core drug,” she said, like heroine or crack, “I was that opposed.” So, she packed up everything and moved to California from Georgia to “save him from drugs,” she explained.
What happened next, she said, is that I learned. “I became the student.”
Taylor began working with Harborside Health Center’s senior outreach programs more than eight years ago. Since, she said she’s witnessed the power of cannabis.
“When promoting medicine to these people that have never been introduced to cannabis, the results I saw […] literally changed my mind,” Taylor said. She’s watched others overcome stage 4 cancer, leave their walkers, and drop the use of numerous pharmaceuticals after treatment with medicinal cannabis. The real people, the real stories — that’s what inspired her.
Seniors (including baby boomers) make up one of the nation’s largest populations. This demographic is only growing as more age into it. People above the age of 55 account for 14 percent of the U.S., and 30 percent of prescription drugs.
“The reality is seniors that I’ve worked with are on as [much as] 7-20+ pills a day,” she said. Most are being treated for two-to-three illnesses, but after the use of multiple pharmaceuticals, illnesses easily graduate to 15-20 due to side effects. Treatment for side effects lead to more medications, and more disorders. Often times, said Taylor, they’re “still in pain, still can’t get out of bed.”
However, and Taylor pointed out, it’s not just the older generations which suffer from overuse of pharmaceuticals; it’s a cross-generational problem. Americans in general are getting sicker, and dying younger. Many sources, including the recent paper “Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century,” point to the over-prescription of pharmaceuticals (primarily opioids) as a cause.
“It’s not just about cannabis, but total well being […],” she explained. Because of the pharmaceutical approach to healthcare, seniors are being robbed. “[This] approach is taking away the genius, the loving, the creativeness — the foundation — of what we as seniors have passed on to younger generation. [They’re] not mentally or physically there to pass that on because most don’t feel well.”
There’s a place for pharmaceuticals in society, Taylor acknowledged, but there are holistic alternatives. For those who grew up in an era of prohibition, cannabis is still very much an illegal substance.
Outreach and education are needed to battle this stigma.
Taylor finds that people are more open to cannabis once they know a) it doesn’t have to be smoked, and the high can be eliminated, and b) there are no cases of overdoses.
“Seniors don’t want to get high, they want to get well,” Taylor said. Products high in CBD and low in THC are popular among the demographic for this reason. Topicals, tinctures bath salts, and vape pens are also preferred consumption methods among seniors.
The most common reasons people seek medical cannabis are for chronic pain, inflammation and insomnia — all illnesses which plague aging demographic.
Whatever they choose, Taylor encourages patients to communicate with their doctors so the medical community is more attuned to the medicinal effects of cannabis. Such vertical advocacy serves both the older, and younger generations.
Taylor’s mission is to bring dignity back to seniors. Cannabis is just one of the keys to a higher quality of life.
- In 2016, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that cannabis use among Americans ages 55-64 was up 455 percent since 2002. Usage increased 333 percent among those 65 and older.
- Seniors most commonly suffer from illnesses that cannabis is known to treat: sleeplessness, joint pain and inflammation, and loss of appetite.
- Seniors (55+ years in age) account for 14 percent of the U.S. population, and used 30 percent of all prescription drugs, according to multiple sources including “Cannabis Geographic.”
- Prescription drug use is dropping in states that allow medicinal cannabis, according to a July 2016 study released in the “Health Affairs Journal.” This data suggest cannabis to be effective at curbing opioid use, and the rate of prescription drug use among seniors.