Among seniors, the perception of pot is changing. Americans over-65 account for 14 percent of the nation’s population but use more than 30% of all prescription drugs. This includes some highly-addictive painkillers, those most in need of the plant’s benefits have historically been those most opposed to it. Why? Longer exposure to propaganda and the War on Drugs. Now, that group is slowly changing its mind on cannabis, and that could have a powerful positive effect not only on senior health but the cannabis legalization movement as a whole.
Cannabis convert-turned-activist Sue Taylor is known as “the Weed Lady” in the local community. This 68-year-old is a regular at the gym, eats kale to keep her cholesterol down, and advocates natural living. Sue Taylor works hard to stay fit healthy. One surprise in her regimen to stay active and youthful is cannabis. She uses edibles in the evening to reduce pain and help her get better rest.
Sue wasn’t always pro cannabis. In fact, she used to be a high school principal, preaching the dangers of drugs. But after her son got into the pot business, and as she began to learn more about marijuana, she changed her mind.
Now she speaks at community meetings to other seniors in California, one of the states where medical marijuana requires only a doctor’s prescription. She espouses the potential benefits for the aging population, and she has statistics on her side.
Polling confirms that more and more Americans age 55 and up are using more and more marijuana. One reason is geography: almost half of Americans live in a place where marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes.
Dr. Igor Grant
Dr. Igor Grant, a distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, is the recipient of one of the rare federal grants allowing him to research the potential benefits of pot.
“First of all, there is increasing evidence that cannabis is helpful in the management of certain kinds of pain. And it’s the kind of discomfort experienced by seniors, like sharp pains felt by nerve damage, caused by things like chemotherapy or diabetes.
An interesting question is, if people are prescribed cannabis, does that have then an opioid-sparing effect? Because again, for chronic pain we do use opioids – Vicodin and drugs like this. We need studies to understand that. But I think the preliminary evidence suggests that may be true.”
At the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek, there are social clubs for everything from cars to swimming. Now there is also a medical marijuana use group, with over 100 regulars in the community of more than 9,000. Renee Lee is its president, and a kind of pot guidance counselor.
“We caution, especially the seniors, to stay away from edibles, and really start slow. We start with low dosage, we start in the early evening, telling them not to drive, not to mix alcohol. There’s a lot of cautions, a lot of education that goes along with it.”
Governor John Hickenlooper
In Colorado, the first state to sell marijuana for recreational use, its governor -Governor John Hickenlooper, who initially opposed legalization, now says he sees how it can work for those over-65.
“For seniors that want to, kind of, relax and don’t want to use alcohol, this is a choice maybe that they will embrace more than others.”
When asked if the influence and prominent more prominent voting tendencies of the senior population could have an effect on legalization efforts in states this year, he said:
“Well, that’s an interesting point, and I think you’re probably right. The perception against legalizing marijuana [was], you know, historically in this state when we passed it, seniors were probably the most adamant against it. And if more are using it, then that probably is going to change. And probably it won’t just be in Colorado. It will probably change across the country.”
Whether you are a senior or simply have an elderly loved one you think deserves a better quality of life, there are a number of conditions for which you should consider cannabis as a potential treatment.
“Number one is arthritis,” Taylor said. “There are tinctures and rubs that you could actually put on your legs, on your knees, across your back, wherever you’re having any arthritic pain. Most seniors use the cannabis for pain and to sleep.”
Approximately 20% of the population suffers from arthritis pain, and with opioid prescriptions dangerous side effects, including accidental over-medication being able to affect respiration and heart rate, cannabis is a far safer and more natural alternative.
3 out of 5 seniors in America have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The rest that our bodies require is especially important once we reach our Golden Years, as we are more susceptible to illness. Studies show that indica strains help people fall asleep up to an hour faster, and stay asleep through the night, with greater slow-wave sleep cycles, which are vital for rest and rejuvenation of the body.
Cancer treatment and prevention
Seniors are far more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. Cannabis has been proven not only to effectively fight cancer and help with the side effects of chemotherapy on the body, but can actually reduce the risk of certain types of cancer in users, including breast, prostate, lung, uterus, cervix, mouth, colon, and pancreas.
Studies in California have revealed the positive effects that THC and other cannabinoids have on the aging brain. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the formation of amyloid plaques on the neural pathways of the brain. Cannabis, and specifically THC, have been shown to block the formation of these plaques, and even reduce the levels of existing plaques in the brain.
For seniors, this means a sharper mind and better memory, which can go a long way towards improving health and longevity.
Quality of life
Among seniors, depression is becoming more common. Whether due to limited physical activity, health, or other factors, this is a condition that can have a profound and direct effect on overall health and quality of life. Cannabis has been used for millennia for its ability to increase happiness, making simple pleasures like food, music, colors, entertainment, and social activities even more enjoyable.
For seniors, improving their quality of life can mean the difference between social isolation and poor health, or healthy social interaction and robust vigor. The difference can add a number of years of good living to one’s lifespan, and the desire for many more.
“Seniors don’t want to get high; they want to get well. And the cannabis helps.” – Taylor
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