The relationship between cannabis and my family has been tumultuous, intriguing and, quite frankly, confusing to say the least.
My parents’ views on cannabis went from unfathomable disgust (my mother couldn’t say the word “weed” — it was hilarious) to reluctant acceptance when they realized my older brother wouldn’t drop his pot-smoking habits. Recently, we have entered the territory of what seems like genuine appreciation, with my father asking me to bake him oatmeal cookie edibles (a terrible combination, to be brutally honest). This is not to mention the cannabis plants my dad’s currently growing and the business he told me he wants to launch.
I went from a Nancy Reagan-esque household to one where vape cartridge boxes and empty bud containers are strewn across my kitchen table daily. And while I’m pleased with my family’s gradual shift in opinion, I tread lightly since it still feels like some intricately planned trap to expose me as a no-good, delinquent weed aficionado. So, yeah, what gives?
My parents — who have just entered their 50s — and their strange, yet welcomed, shifting attitudes toward cannabis are reflective of the changing times. Cannabis use among U.S. adults has doubled within a decade, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Consumption of edibles and smoking has also risen two-fold among seniors over the age of 65.
The upward trend of older consumers in the cannabis market is the result of many factors. The reality is that cannabis is, for some seniors, transformative and even life-saving.
Legalization, especially medical legalization, allows elderly and middle-aged consumers access to an herbal substance free of the potential health risks of pharmaceuticals. Cannabis has been shown to be potentially useful in treating various ailments that are more prevalent with older age, including arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain and sleep difficulties. For many seniors, prescription drugs also pose increasing financial burdens, often forcing people to forgo or ration medication due to greedy big pharma companies. For others, cannabis is simply a way to manage pain.
For my grandparents, it was the lattermost. My grandmother used CBD and THC to manage her chronic pain and depression as a result of her pancreatic cancer. My grandfather currently uses edibles to cope with his arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
If some seniors turn to cannabis for its medicinal properties, then others just turn to it for recreation. And let’s face it: Weed is fun. For some elderly people, cannabis is a nostalgic memento, reminiscent of their participation in weed activism in the mid-1960s and ’70s. For others, who missed out on cannabis counterculture, it’s a chance to try something new and reconnect with a part of history they lived through.
One place that has tapped into this growing consumer base is Bud and Bloom, a dispensary in Santa Ana that has been shuttling seniors to and from its store monthly for nearly three years. The dispensary’s shuttle program includes educational presentations on various cannabis-related topics, professional talks and free lunch. Budtenders and staff then work with seniors to give personalized product recommendations.
At the same time, research on cannabis’ health effects is lacking — especially considering the additional risk factors many elderly and middle-aged populations face. Research on weed’s interaction with various medications for ailments common to older populations is essentially nonexistent. Preliminary studies on the blood thinner warfarin, for example, demonstrate how cannabis may harmfully interact with the medication by increasing the risk for internal bleeding.
But as elderly populations trend toward becoming vital consumers within the market, it’s important that legislation and dispensaries catch up. Research must be conducted in tandem with the changing era — preferably before people with preexisting medical conditions dive into self-medication and medical marijuana as a cure-all for their diseases without the proper information.
Ultimately, in what seems like a poorly written “Saturday Night Live” skit or old-timey stoner film, older populations are seeking out cannabis in ways comparable to younger generations. There’s nothing quite as refreshing, funny and heartwarming to me than the elderly giving weed a go. (It’s like, “Yes, of course, join the club! We have drugs and anti-capitalist sentiments here.”)
Natalie Oganesyan is a rising senior writing about weed culture and politics. She is also the editor-in-chief at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “To Be Blunt” runs every other Wednesday.