A growing number of American seniors are adding a tinge of green to their golden years as more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use—and as cannabis companies conduct outreach to senior communities to educate prospective patients and caregivers about the potential benefits.
But even as the stigma associated with marijuana use recedes and education efforts spread, seniors should do their own due diligence about the potential health benefits, the risks and side effects, and the financial costs before deciding to use. Also, before using for medicinal or recreational purposes, seniors should consult their physician.
“Cannabis just has a great potential to help seniors with overall quality of life,” says Dr. William Troutt, Trulieve Cannabis’ lead medical director, who adds that seniors are “definitely our fastest-growing demographic.”
Medicinal Benefits and Risks
Seniors are using marijuana primarily to deal with chronic pain from arthritis, nerve damage, cancer, or other ailments, but some use it for anxiety, depression, and sleep problems, said Dr. Elizabeth Ardillo, director of medical education at Green Thumb Industries.
Others use it for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Troutt said. For some, marijuana is an alternative or supplement to opioids, reducing their risk of overdosing or becoming addicted to those powerful pain-killing drugs, Troutt added.
Although marijuana is known to increase heart rate and blood pressure, it’s generally well tolerated by users of all ages, Troutt and Ardillo say. Still, they recommend that seniors consult their doctors, especially if they’re taking medications.
Marijuana can interact with some heart medications, including blood thinners such as warfarin, altering their efficacy or potency, Ardillo said. Cannabis also may enhance the effects of alcohol and anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, she added.
In addition, when seniors get high, they’re at a greater risk for falling or experiencing confusion and dizziness, so they should avoid driving and only use marijuana in a safe setting such as the home, Troutt said. New users should consider products low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana, start with small doses, and keep a journal noting the size, timing and effects of each dose, he added.
“One of the greatest benefits of cannabis for seniors is its safety profile, having a very low physical toxicity,” Troutt said. “It’s very rare to see those drug interactions that are of high risk.”
Marijuana laws vary from state to state, but costs can add up quickly. In Florida, for example, where only medical use is allowed, residents must pay a $75 application fee each year to get a medical card and be examined by a state-qualified marijuana doctor twice annually, with visits typically costing $150 to $200. Since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance won’t cover any of the costs of fees, doctor visits or marijuana products.
Many dispensaries have frequent sale promotions and offer discounts to new users, seniors, and veterans, but everyday users can expect to spend several hundred dollars a month. Recent email promotions from Trulieve, for example, advertised strains of marijuana flower, the kind that you smoke, for $43 to $53 for an eighth of an ounce, while one-gram TruPODS, containing marijuana oil extract used for vaping, were going for $94 .
Some dispensaries offer free delivery for seniors.
Better prices for marijuana flower may be found on the street, but dispensaries note that only their products are guaranteed to be free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals and to be tested for purity and potency. What’s more, dispensaries carry many forms of marijuana beyond flower that aren’t typically found on the street, including vape products, topical lotions and gels, oral tinctures, capsules and edibles such as gummies, brownies, and cookies.
“Cost always is a concern when we’re talking about any type of medication,” Troutt said.
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