Why Canadian seniors are turning to cannabis
Lynn Wells only nibbles on a cannabis brownie monthly, but she’s one of many Canadian seniors clamouring to a plant they tried decades ago and have now returned to in light of some aches, pains and other conditions.
“It helps me go to sleep,” says the 75-year-old Toronto resident. “I only have some at night, never during the day. Just like alcohol.”
Wells says the “pothead stigma” is now gone, since she could throw a stone and likely find a fellow senior who consumes cannabis. “It’s become more fashionable to use it, over opiates or other drugs,” she says.
Canadian seniors over 65 aren’t a large cannabis user group, according to Statistics Canada surveys. They account for just 1.6 percent of users in a 2015 survey. But it is a growing demographic, with cannabis users aged 45 to 64 increasing to seven percent in 2015 compared with 6.1 percent in 2013.
“More and more seniors are trying cannabis, which I know of through anecdotal or second-hand stories,” says Amanda Siebert, a Vancouver journalist who recently published The Little Book of Cannabis. “Grandfathers are using it for back pain, for example.”
But judging by licensed producers’ scant marketing materials pre-legalization, you would think the seniors’ market has been largely ignored, Siebert says. “Mostly I’m seeing cannabis being advertised to a hip young recreational market, so there could be a big piece of the pie missing here,” she adds.
Seniors will most often receive information and advice about cannabis use from pharmacists and doctors, Dr. Mona Sidhu, a geriatrician with the Hamilton Health Sciences group of hospitals in Ontario, told reporters. For now, Sidhu notes, “there is great variation in how well informed these health professionals are. Taking an edible or oral formulation can result in higher side-effects such as drowsiness, falls and dizziness.”
Cheryl Munroe, a 70-year-old Wasaga Beach retiree, has been consuming cannabis since she was 26 and has seen a shift in how seniors view cannabis as a recreational or medicinal product. “Cannabis and seniors are more noticeable now and a lot don’t care about smoking a bit of a joint once in a while,” she says in an interview.
She advises seniors interested in trying cannabis for the first time to be around those you feel comfortable with and to opt for vaping over smoking, “so it isn’t as harsh on your lungs.”
One might assume that someone using cannabis regularly for more than 40 years would see some long-term negative effects, but Munroe says her health is fine, except for asthma symptoms. “I don’t have any memory issues and I think if I was drinking this much instead of using cannabis, I’d have a lot more health challenges,” she says.
Commercial cannabis companies are honing in on the seniors’ market, but primarily for medicinal objectives. For example, Canopy Growth’s subsidiary Spectrum Cannabis has partnered with the Ontario Long Term Care Association to pursue a medical cannabis pilot study and care pathway for use in long-term care homes.
“Medical cannabis is currently prescribed for residents as appropriate, but it’s still an emerging area,” says Candace Chartier, CEO of the OLTCA, in the press release. “Through this partnership and pilot study, we hope to provide more clarity to long-term care clinicians and frontline staff about the use of medical cannabis for residents.”
- Via interviewed conducted October 11, 2018