Marijuana use continues to grow in the U.S., with 38 states passing legislation allowing cannabis use for various health conditions. These conditions include arthritic pain, anxiety and insomnia. A total of 20 states (plus the District of Columbia) have approved recreational use of cannabis. As you might imagine, this has helped sales boom over the last decade. The reason for this is that the health benefits and risks tend to be more favorable than many prescription meds. But what’s even more intriguing is the shifting demographics of cannabis use. Medical marijuana use in older adults is on the rise, and for many cannabis suppliers, this is a hot market and a great potential revenue stream.
Over the last 15 years, the percentage of cannabis users over 65 years has progressively increased. In 2007, less than 1% of this age group admitted to cannabis use annually. Last year, however, this figure had climbed to 8%. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which is the more favorable health benefits and risks of cannabis. This doesn’t mean that older adults and medical marijuana use might not have unwanted side effects. But given the choice between pain, insomnia, or nervousness and marijuana, many are moving toward the latter. Unfortunately, research remains lacking in this area, making it difficult to best guide seniors. This is where many cannabis suppliers are picking up the slack and educating older adults themselves.
The Health Benefits and Risks of Cannabis
One of the key drivers for older adults and medical marijuana considerations relates to poor symptom control. As individuals age, some conditions become more common. Arthritis and joint pain are examples of this as is difficulties sleeping through the night. This can be problematic for many older adults as well as caregivers and spouses. In many instances, prescription and over-the-counter medications are tried to remedy these complaints. But between poor response and side effects, many seniors become frustrated. This is when an increasing number are deciding to give cannabis or CBD products a try. Driven by testimonials of their peers, much of the previous stigma has gone. And desperate to seek symptom relief, it’s easy to be convinced that cannabis might be the way to go.
Of course, cannabis may not be the best course of treatment for all older adults. Both health benefits and risks of cannabis exist, and predicting side effects can be tough. For one, versions of cannabis and THC today are much more potent than in past decades. Likewise, the ability to metabolize cannabis is less robust in older adults than in younger ones. And there’s the chance that cannabis might interfere with existing medications. Given this, older adults tend to be more prone to certain side effects related to cannabis use. Confusion, incoordination, balance problems, and even panic attacks may occur among seniors. Because older adults and medical marijuana side effects are difficult to anticipate, most recommend starting low and going slow.
Tapping into the Older Adult Demographic
It’s not surprising many suppliers in the cannabis industry are aware of the potential growth of these shifting age demographics. As older adults and medical marijuana use increased, so did their focus on these consumers. One of the key gaps that needed filling involved education about cannabis and its related products. Research on cannabis has been suppressed for many decades due to prior views and the war on drugs. This has undermined actual knowledge about the health benefits and risks of cannabis. This is particularly true when it comes to older adults and medical marijuana. While there are side effects appreciated in this age group, it is far from comprehensive. And without good information out there, many cannabis companies are doing what they can to provide some insights.
Teaching older adults about the health benefits and risks of cannabis is good business. This is why several companies are investing in these activities. For example, Glass House, a major cannabis supplier, has been bussing seniors from retirement center to educational events. Trulieve, based on North Florida, has been targeting senior living communities for cannabis education. And New York-based Bristol Extracts has a specific brand for older adults and medical marijuana. It’s called “Senior Moments.” Some of these products are combined with ginkgo biloba to aid memory and mood as well. Each of these efforts are designed to not only communicate the health benefits and risks of cannabis to seniors. But they also hope to advance this segment of their cannabis market.
Challenges with Older Adults and Medical Marijuana
While cannabis companies attempt to educate seniors about the health benefits and risks of cannabis, these efforts are limited. The reason for these limitations is not because of a lack of complete disclosure. Instead, it’s simply because there is so much not yet known about older adults and medical marijuana. In addition to scant research, the cannabis plant itself is highly complex. It has over 100 different cannabinoids, the key substance exerting medicinal effects. Plus, different plants have different THC to CBD ratios, which also affects drug effects and side effects. Until these various types are studied, and particularly studied in seniors, it’s impossible to provide complete information. This is why many medical providers remain hesitant to recommend cannabis to older adults.
Understanding this, most provider who do advise older adults and medical marijuana use are cautious. They suggest starting at a low dose of 1mg to 2.5mg and then giving it a week before advancing. It’s also important to be aware of specific cannabis drug interactions. Warfarin, a blood thinner, as well as sedatives like benzodiazepines are affected by cannabis use. That being said, there are clear health advantages of cannabis from which older adults may benefit. It’s therefore worth exploring for those who haven’t found relief from traditional medical care. This might be good news for many seniors. And it’s certainly positive from cannabis suppliers’ point of view.