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      Elderly Americans Are Exploring Cannabis

      The trend grows as legalization expands.

      One of the tragedies of a century of misguided and harmful cannabis prohibition is stigma. This powerful prejudice has discouraged too many people from seeking safe, accessible plant medicine that could radically improve their quality of life. That’s why 1906 has made it our mission to change that paradigm. We’re grateful for the wave of cannabis legalization that has spread across the country. 

      Widespread knowledge and distribution has led to an expansion of cannabis use across age groups as more and more people, including health care professionals, learn about the benefits of this natural wonder drug. 

      This includes the elderly. A recent survey of nearly 15,000 seniors found that cannabis use among people over 65 jumped 75 percent from 2015 to 2018, from 2.4 percent of that group to 4.2 percent. In 2006, it was just 0.4 percent.

      By 2019, use had reached 5 percent.

      Cannabis consumption is rising, especially among women and those reporting higher education and income. 

      Studies are ongoing about how the stress and isolation of the pandemic impacted use among older people, but surveys have shown widespread increases in anxiety and depression. These are conditions cannabis can address. Leaf411, a nonprofit, nurse-staffed cannabis information helpline reported a 50 percent jump in calls last year, with most questions coming from older adults.

      Researchers expect geriatric use to keep expanding. Dr. Benjamin H. Han, the lead author of the recent analysis, said, “I would expect it to continue to increase sharply.” 

      Another study, this one in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reported a similar trend. From 2016 to 2018, the proportion of men ages 65 to 69 who reported using cannabis or hashish within the past month, climbed to 8.2 percent from 4.3 percent. Among women, it grew to 3.8 percent from 2.1 percent.

      “It’s rare to see that much change in a three-year period,” said William Jesdale, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts. “It shocked us.”

      But it makes sense. Even before the pandemic, older adults tended to suffer from the conditions that cannabis is most clearly helpful with – chronic pain, insomnia and other sleep disorders, as well as sexual health challenges. And several studies – such as those here, here, here, and here – have found that medical cannabis use by seniors is relatively safe and effective at addressing pain and improving overall wellness.

      With cannabis now legal for a majority of Americans for medical and/or recreational purposes, researchers have stepped up their investigations to learn more about how cannabis may help to treat a variety of long-term health conditions and symptoms common among older adults. 

      In response to these recent findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “it is not surprising that a rising percentage of seniors consider cannabis to be a viable therapeutic option in their later years. Many seniors struggle with pain, anxiety, restless sleep and other conditions for which cannabis products may help mitigate. Moreover, many seniors are well aware of the litany of serious adverse side-effects associated with available prescription drugs, like opioids or sleep aids, and they perceive medical cannabis to be a practical and potentially safer alternative.”

      Another study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, focused on a southern California geriatric clinic. It found that 15 percent of seniors reported consuming cannabis products within the past three years, primarily for therapeutic purposes. Over half of those who had tried cannabis reported using the products either daily or weekly. And the vast majority – 78 percent – called their use medical, primarily to soothe pain, aid sleep or reduce anxiety. 

      Most of them said they had only begun using the cannabis products as senior adults. But, unfortunately, less than half of these elderly consumers reported having spoken to their health care provider about cannabis use.

      We join the growing movement urging, as legalization becomes the norm, patients and health care providers to grow more comfortable with discussing the possibilities of cannabis as medicine.

      Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a Harvard-trained and -employed primary doctor and medical cannabis consultant, wrote in a post in 2020 that he’s seeing older patients being more open to discussing cannabis. He thinks a reduction in stigma has played a major role, pointing to a recent statement by the 38 million-member AARP, supporting the medical use of cannabis for seniors in states where it is legal. 

      Grinspoon’s post lays out a helpful Q&A for seniors considering cannabis use. Questions persist about the impacts of the cannabis high on older adults, especially those at risk for confusion and dementia. He suggests patients, in consultation with their medical teams, proceed cautiously, while pointing out that “interestingly, there is some research that cognitive functioning can actually improve when patients use medical cannabis, due to, among other things, improved sleep and pain control.” A 2017 study indicated that cannabis may in fact boost the eldery brain. But, as Dr. Grinspoon points out, “as with most things cannabis-related, this too needs further study to confirm and clarify.”

      That research can’t come soon enough. For now, at 1906, we encourage all new cannabis users to start low and go slow. 

      The 1906 fleet of precision edibles, with their consistent, reliable and moderate doses of THC, combined with targeted doses of CBD and other plant medicines, make that approach simple and straightforward. Furthermore, 1906 products feature the fastest-in-the-industry onset time, meaning consumers will feel the effects within 20 minutes. This alleviates a common concern that users won’t feel the impact and inadvertently take too much. 

      You can find 1906 products in licensed, legal dispensaries in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, and we’re coming soon to Michigan and Ohio. If you have questions about product use for seniors – or for anyone – email us or shoot us a text at 855-707-2192. We’re happy to help!


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