Seniors and Cannabis: Is Pot The New Martini for North America’s 50+ Crowd?
Since its legalization, cannabis seems to have hit its stride in several age groups. But the older Canadian has embraced it. In fact, seniors aged 65 or older are the country’s fastest growing age group of cannabis users, according to data collected by Statistics Canada.
The poll involved 5,452 Canadians and asked whether they used cannabis in the last three months. Cannabis use still remains highest among younger age groups, but the report shows that cannabis use among seniors is rising faster than others. And StatCan reports that an increase in popularity of cannabis among older consumers has affected the average age of cannabis users – from 29.4 years in 2004 to 38.1 in 2019.
Motivations for Use Among Seniors
More than one fourth (27 percent) of cannabis users over the age of 65 are new users, but they are a careful group. Most do not use on a daily basis. More than half (52 percent) state that they use cannabis for medical reasons only. The remainder are split equally – 24 percent use pot recreationally, and 24 percent use it for both medical and recreational reasons.
“The legalization of cannabis has allowed the over 50 crowd to safely acquire the cannabis that helps improve their quality of life,” says John A. Muise, partner in GreenGrab, Inc., the first legal recreational cannabis delivery platform available in Massachusetts.
“The 50 and over crowd likes cannabis whether it’s medical or recreational. There is very little difference other than the taxation associated with it.”
However, Muise admits that a majority of cannabis users in this age group are treating an ailment of some kind. “Sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, pain, and stress are just some of the symptoms that are being treated by medical and recreational users. Cannabis can be responsibly used to treat a variety of conditions, with little or no side effects in the right context.”
The studies agree. An average of 65 percent of medical marijuana patients in the United States used it for chronic pain. Other uses included in this particular study were to help with symptoms or side effects of multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
And in the United States, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that the largest increase in cannabis use by adults older than 65 were those living with diabetes. This could correlate with reports that cannabis might ease nerve pain that is caused by neuropathy.
Despite the rise in numbers, older consumers seem to be a little picky in their choices when it comes cannabis use. Although a number of them are long-time users, others are new to the use of cannabis.
“Many [cannabis users] have been smoking since youth and need very little direction, and some are picking it up again now that it’s legal (and definitely need a little extra care),” says Jennawae McLean, founder and CEO of Calyx + Trichomes in Kingston, Ontario.
“The largest demographic in our city is actually baby boomers. Kingston is a retirement city,” McLean says. “So a large portion, if not most of our customers, are seniors,” McLean says. “These are people who especially want regulated access to cannabis.”
New users may be more comfortable trying cannabis with friends, either as a safety precaution or because dispensaries can be overwhelming. But few, McLean adds, are using cannabis simply as a novelty. “There is a lot of interest in CBD and balanced products, as well. Most of the questions we get are around new products (which come all the time) and getting through our massive menu. Other questions (like dosing or effects) are hard to gauge, so we just recommend everyone start low and go slow.”
Group Efforts: Seniors Take A Field Trip
A few senior groups are creating “field trips” to cannabis dispensaries to inform residents of the benefits of cannabis. This video, “Getting Stoned with Seniors in Seattle,” illustrates how social groups could allow seniors to feel less awkward about smoking or ingesting cannabis products. And groups for cannabis users are cropping up in social meeting sites such as Meetup and Facebook.
“Some seniors are hippies that grew up and incorporate cannabis into all their socializing and activities,” says Heidi Fikstad, CEO and co-founder of Moss Crossing Dispensary in Eugene, Oregon. “Some are just using it quietly before bed.”
Fikstad has not yet entertained any field trip groups or cannabis classes in the dispensary. However, she states that Moss Crossing’s top applied discount is the “wisdom” discount for seniors. “What we’ve seen the most is group shopping on a smaller scale,” Fikstad states.
“The older crowd will come in with their adult children who want to show their parents that dispensaries aren’t all intimidating or scary. Or they will come with another friend that has experienced some success with cannabis.”
But she feels that cannabis use is becoming more normalized and may already be a part of the offerings of smaller get-togethers. “We are located in Eugene, Oregon, where there is a pretty large portion of the population that has been comfortable with cannabis for most of their lives. It would not be odd to see a group of seniors passing around a joint at a gathering in this town.”
Moss Crossing budtender Teal Holland sees more curiosity than concern in his senior customers. “The seniors are the real OGs! More often than not they know exactly what they need with a powerful vindication for this industry and the freedoms it allows for the people to access their medicine. It’s the middle-aged moms and dads who tip-toe in with a curious shyness, but not our seniors.”
Party in Place
Muise’s company offers an option to those who are well-versed in cannabis. He has partnered with the Holyoke Cannabis Cup, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where sponsors and event promoters hope to introduce the cannabis industry to the community, in an entertaining and social atmosphere.
“I do believe the progression of cannabis legality will enable more social consumption,” says Muise. “Adults are yearning for a social gathering place where cannabis can be consumed,” says Muise. “The Holyoke Cannabis Cup is the first event of its kind in Holyoke. This public event will aim to promote social equity, small business, and signify the benefits of cannabis consumption as well as pursuing cannabis as a venture.”
Fikstad sees medicinal cannabis use holding the interest of the over-50 consumer to date, with recreational use trailing behind.
“With more cannabis research being developed, I believe people over the age of 50 are becoming more inclined to try cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceuticals, or to use a cannabis topical to help relieve arthritic pain, muscle tension, or bruising,” says Fikstad.
“Topicals tend to be a great product to test the waters in cannabis plant medicine, as intoxicating effects are minimal to non-existent. Products that are high in CBD and lower in THC also tend to be a place that new users of almost any age group are more comfortable trying first, until they are able to find the level of THC they are comfortable with, which varies for each individual,” she says.
“Overall, I think having information to make informed decisions about products is what helps new customers feel comfortable, and having a budtender that is informed and listens closely to each individual’s needs is invaluable.”
As a budtender, Holland observes older customers as people who can lead other age groups into an acceptance of cannabis not only as a recreational respite, but as serious medicine.
“Our cherished wise ones are no BS, inspiring forces who care to tend to their bodies and minds and to share their findings of relief within the cannabis industry with those who they cherish around them,” says Holland.
“The positive feedback is contagious and inspiring, and it truly gives me a sense of hope for humankind as a whole. Our seniors are thriving and we get to witness their honoured freedoms, joys and excitement for the future through the aid of cannabis. It’s a universal deep exhale every single time, a wisdom within each set of eyes that leaves our shop with their tools, aid, self-care… and medicine in hand.”