Adults are trying various oils and tinctures to ease chronic pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety after pharmaceutical drugs have failed
Adults in their 70s, 80s and 90s are trying cannabis for the first time, hoping the plant will ease chronic pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety after pharmaceutical drugs have failed
Around this time of year, Hope Bobowski can’t wait to garden in the flower beds outside her home near Keremeos, in the hills of southern Interior British Columbia.
The petite 79-year-old loves card games and cooking for her great-grandchildren, but the only thing that keeps her on her feet is her daily dose of cannabidiol (CBD), a potent extract of cannabis or hemp.
She took her first spoonful last June, when the pain from osteoarthritis in her back had become so bad that her husband Stan had to dress her, do the cooking and help her in and out of bed. “I was going downhill fast.”
On TV, they saw a show about CBD oil. Her first thought was, “No way, I’m not having anything to do with cannabis.” The way she was brought up, “you didn’t go around drugs.”
Then she thought about the four to six pills of Tylenol 3, laced with codeine, a narcotic analgesic, she took every day. She thought about her doctor’s suggestion that she try opioid painkillers. “You can get hooked on that.”
So, she tried about 10 drops of CBD oil her husband had obtained from an unlicensed producer. Unlike THC – the psychoactive component in cannabis – pure CBD has medicinal properties without any “high.”
The next day, she said, “there was no pain.”
Across the country, seniors are adding cannabis-rich tinctures, oils and capsules to their medicine cabinets. Some – mainly boomers in their mid-50s to early 70s – are rediscovering weed after going for decades without a toke. But often, adults in their 70s, 80s and 90s are trying cannabis for the first time, hoping the plant will ease chronic pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety after pharmaceutical drugs have failed.
In the United States, seniors have become the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis users, CBS News reported last year. Canada, with new legislation to legalize cannabis by 2018, could follow suit.
Recent data on the number of Canadian seniors using cannabis are unavailable. But in 2013, Health Canada figures showed that two-thirds of Canadians registered to purchase medical marijuana were taking it to treat severe arthritis, more common among older adults.
Many cannabis dispensaries are now actively catering to seniors. In Victoria’s Oaklands neighbourhood, a large dispensary called Farmacy draws customers from nearby retirement homes to a brightly lit space with nostalgic photos and vintage apothecary-style display cases housing an array of tinctures, oils and extracts.
Weighing scales measure dried cannabis by the gram, in varieties such as “granddaddy purple” and “blue dream.” But don’t ask for “bud.” Here, they’re called “flowers.”
Andrew Gill, manager of the dispensary since it opened two years ago, estimates that at least 50 per cent of Farmacy’s customers are over age 55. “Make no mistake – we play classic rock every day specifically for them.”
Seniors interviewed for this article said they spend $10 to $50 a week on cannabis products, depending on the severity of their condition. Seniors’ discounts are now available through licensed producers such as Tilray, based in Nanaimo, B.C., and the Cannaclinics chain of dispensaries in Vancouver and Toronto.
Other companies are offering standing-room-only info sessions in libraries and seniors’ centres everywhere from Sudbury, Ont., to Summerland, B.C.
“Demand from seniors looking for information and access to medical cannabis, is definitely increasing,” said Hilary Black, director of patient education and advocacy at Canopy Growth Corporation, the parent company of three of Canada’s largest licensed cannabis producers.