As more and more states legalize cannabis, a surprising demographic has increasingly embraced this medicinal plant: people over the age of 65. A recent study shows that the number of seniors who use marijuana nearly doubled in only three years — from 2015 to 2018.
According to Jorge Olson, co-founder of major cannabis companies Green Globe International and Hempacco, seniors are freeing themselves from fears about cannabis and not only trying a variety of cannabis products, but also becoming loyal customers and advocates in their own right.
Decades of misinformation about cannabis
Olson notes that today’s seniors received a lot of misinformation about cannabis during their formative years. “When President Nixon started the war on drugs with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, cannabis was listed as Schedule I substance,” he says. “That lumped it in with dangerous drugs with no medicinal value.”
In addition to this criminalization of cannabis, the “Reefer Madness” zeitgeist and Nancy Reagan’s famous war on drugs conditioned these Americans to be wary of cannabis. “Cannabis was vilified,” Olson explains. “People came to think of it as another social problem the country had. Many believed using cannabis would make you a drug addict. Some even voted for harsher punishments for the people selling and consuming it.”
Olson can relate to this experience himself, despite not being a senior. “I grew up in Tijuana in the middle of the Arellano drug cartel rule,” he says. “As a high-school student, I remember thinking cannabis is a bad drug, period. It took time and information for me to change my opinion.”
Seniors are now thinking twice, as well.
Questioning misinformation about cannabis
According to Olson, the turning point came when medical marijuana began to help people with cancer, pain, and other illnesses. “Word of mouth slowly started to spread information about the benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids,” he says.
News of cannabis’s advantages really took off, however, when news programs started running television specials on hemp and cannabis. “I remember watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s first cannabis documentary a decade ago,” Olson says. “He was skeptical. I was skeptical, too. The whole world was. But in the middle of the documentary, when I saw a child go from several seizures per minute to hardly any in a day, I was sold. ‘This is a good plant,’ I remember thinking.”
Today, dozens of articles and television documentaries explain the benefits of cannabis and many other hemp cannabinoids. “These educational programs started to chisel off the prejudgments seniors had about the plant,” Olson observes.
Since the aging process brings increased health challenges, which spur many people to search for effective solutions, cannabis use has also taken off for this practical reason. Olson has seen this phenomenon up-close.
“A few years ago, one of our CBD private label clients was selling his CBD in the farmer’s market, but nobody would stop at his booth — not a single person,” he says. “I asked him what his sign said. ‘It says CBD Sold Here,’ he answered. I saw the problem immediately: he needed to educate his customers. I told him to change his sign to ‘Got Pain?’ He did, and the next day he sold $1,000. His clients were seniors — as well as the sons and daughters of seniors — who bought CBD for arthritis, knee pain, neck pain, sleep, and more.”
The many health benefits of cannabis
Research has shown that cannabis promotes sleep, boosts mood, and helps manage pain. For these reasons alone, it has become popular with seniors. But scientists have only begun to explore the potential of this medicinal plant.
“As we speak, there are hundreds of clinical studies being conducted all over the country and around the world,” Olson says. “This research examines many different cannabinoids — including but not limited to THC, CBD, D8, D9, and CBN. Scientists are studying their applications for inflammation, depression, anxiety, sleep, pain, concussions, and much more. For example, the University of California San Diego has ten clinical studies actively studying cannabidiol’s effectiveness for everything from anxiety to sleep, as well as to treat children with autism.”
This ongoing research focuses on different cannabinoids’ possible uses as treatments for a wide variety of ailments. Olson predicts scientists will discover at least twenty new cannabinoids that are beneficial or have functional value in just five years. Companies like his will bring even more specialized products based on empirical data to market. “We’ll see a portfolio of functional cannabinoids, with products for sleep, relaxation, focus, pain, and more,” he says.
For those seniors who might benefit from cannabis but struggle to afford it, Olson recommends trying hemp-derived products, which often have the same effects, at a discount of up to 80 percent. These products also have the advantage of being available at many local convenience stores.
For those seniors who might hesitate to visit a dispensary or experience transportation issues, Olson advises their family members or friends to give them emotional support, take them to stores, or deliver products to them.
Cannabis’s future as legal medicine
More and more seniors are reeducating themselves on the benefits of hemp and cannabis. After taking a look at the new research, they become willing to try it and soon discover the benefits for themselves.
Due to these many benefits, Olson foresees that pressure will continue to mount on the US government to legalize the plant nationwide. “Thanks to seniors, cannabis use is on the rise in the US,” he says. “Someday this will all be old news. Everyone will be able to benefit from cannabinoids without fear of legal repercussions. I predict that in the next five years, you’ll be able to buy it in many convenience stores, just as you can now buy hemp-derived products.”
“One hundred years ago, my great-grandmother Josefa, a Native American, used cannabis for inflammation, pain, and sprains,” Olson continues. “After all this time, I can now see society finally embrace this medicine.”