It was one of those surreal situations adulthood has a way of surprising us with, Rene, a Seattle-based engineer, recalls. “I did have that moment of ‘Is this really happening right now? Am I really begging my father to try pot?’”

As a young person, Rene (who asked that her last name not be printed due to professional concerns), remembers going to great lengths to hide her recreational cannabis use from her conservative parents. “I had all of the tricks up my sleeve. Visine, scented sprays. You name it. It was just such a huge no-no in my house. Pot was a drug. It was just something that they had zero tolerance for. I don’t think that stigma ever went totally away for them.”

Still, Rene found herself and her family in what felt like a desperate situation after her father underwent major knee surgery and was subsequently prescribed a handful of prescription drugs, including an opiate pain killer. “It was hard for all of us to watch. He was so often disorientated, he stumbled sometimes when he walked.”

“Is this really happening right now? Am I really begging my father to try pot?”

Rene, who herself uses cannabis to treat pain from an old sports injury, felt that her father would feel more clear headed if he swapped his opiates for edibles, but she assumed the idea would be met with at least some resistance.

“It turned out he had already been thinking about trying cannabis. I think he knew on some level that pain killers weren’t a workable option. I think living in a state with legal recreational cannabis helped.” Rene took her father to a dispensary she knew of with a nice ambiance, helpful staff, and a wide selection of organic products. “It really dispels these ideas of ‘Oh, marijuana is this shadowy illicit thing,” says Rene.

After finding a few edibles that worked for him, Rene says her father has discontinued taking Hydrocodone and has seen a healthy increase in his appetite and general sense of well-being. “I’m honestly just glad we live in an era where this very common-sense solution is beginning to be an option for people,” says Rene.

Rene’s father is hardly alone in joining the large population of seniors using cannabis. Studies have shown that people over 60 are joining the ranks of cannabis users in larger numbers than any other age group. Still, the study points out, a large number of older people reported being hesitant to discuss trying cannabis use with their doctor.

 

Cannabis For Seniors

Cannabis has been anecdotally purported to offer relief for a wide range of maladies. Due to its continued federal classification as a Schedule I substance, access to reliable studies on its medical use remains scant. Because of this, a chasm has appeared between patients seeking medical cannabis, and healthcare providers who are hesitant to recommend something medicinally for which there has not been adequate research done.

“In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates what can be manufactured and used in medical practice, based on their assessment on the strength of scientific evidence supporting the product’s efficacy,” explains Dr. J. Atkinson, co-director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California at San Diego.

“After finding a few edibles that worked for him, Rene says her father has discontinued taking the opioid hydrocodone and has seen a healthy increase in his appetite and general sense of well-being.”

Atkinson is hopeful about the implications of some early studies that have been done on the potential for cannabis to replace opiate pain killers, but cautions that he believes conclusions cannot be drawn at this point. “There is evidence whole plant cannabis (containing tetrahydrocannabinol, THC) may be pain-relieving for some chronic pain conditions … But this use has been tested only in short-term studies (lasting, say, only two weeks), in a small number of people. This is promising science, but not definitive, and much more research needs to be done to determine how useful cannabis might be for this, or other chronic pain conditions.”

Breaking Stigmas

This lack of available long-term research and the subsequent hesitance both doctors and older patients may feel in discussing cannabis as an option may make it difficult for younger family members to broach the idea of trying it.

Atkinson discourages younger family members from assuming, however, that their older relative has never been around cannabis. “The bias younger people might have is thinking that cannabis is ‘new’ to older relatives, when in fact that relative may have grown up in an era of rather widespread experimentation (i.e. the 1960s and 1970s).”

Atkinson also cautions that anyone considering trying cannabis as medicine should have an open dialogue with their doctor about their decision. “Some conditions might be aggravated by cannabis (for example, people who have had a heart attack may be at risk for another attack in the first several minutes of using cannabis), and the metabolism of some medications might be altered (CBD, for example, may interfere with the metabolism of blood thinners like warfarin, leading to effectively higher amounts in the body). It is also worth noting that a small percentage of people can experience extreme anxiety and a brief psychosis in reaction to cannabis.”

CBD May Help

When discussing potential cannabis use with a relative who’s had little to no exposure to THC, it might be helpful to mention that there are a number of CBD products available (like the ones in the Miss Grass shop) that do not have psychotropic effects. In other words, they don’t get you high. Topical products for pain management and hemp-derived CBD tinctures can be a great way for a relative newcomer to ease into feeling comfortable with cannabis use.

For achey muscles or pain associated with arthritis, you may want to consider suggesting a spray like Apothecanna’s Extra Strength Relieving Spray which, in addition to CBD, contains plant extracts like peppermint and juniper. Individuals seeking a general sense of calm and well-being without a high might love Lord Jones’ CBD gumdrops. They’re delicious and come in elegant packaging that is antithetical to the “stoner” aesthetic that some people might traditionally associate with cannabis.

Papa & Barkley’s hemp capsules offer a similar ease in dosing and are ideal for people who are used to taking capsules as part of their medication regimen. If your relative is struggling with insomnia or sleeplessness due to pain, try suggesting Mineral’s Sleep formula, which combines CBD with other terpenes for a serious snooze effect that won’t leave them feeling foggy in the morning.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to cannabis for seniors—or for any patient—because there is no one type of cannabis user. Remember that it might take time for your loved one to find a product and dose that works with them.

The more readily available you can be to help them stay informed, the easier it will be for them to start to let go of old notions they might have about what cannabis is and who should use it. And the sooner you may even become accustomed to offering your grandparents weed.

By Tess Barker

March 30, 2020

Tess is a Los Angeles based writer and nationally touring comedian. She is regularly published in Vice, The Guardian, Vox, MTV News, Jezebel, and LA Weekly.