Why seniors are flocking to medical marijuana

In Feature Stories by Chris Riddell

Imagining your grandmother smoking a joint might make you giggle. But the reality is that many senior citizens are discovering the medical powers of marijuana.

According to data released by Health Canada in December 2012, 13,362 seniors in B.C. alone are licensed to possess medical marijuana. The 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey released recently found that among adults over 65, the percentage of marijuana users (not necessarily medicinal) quadrupled over the same period, to 0.8 per cent from 0. 2 per cent.

More seniors than ever are using the plant, and the reason for this uptick is not difficult to explain.

By age of 65, seniors can have several different chronic illnesses to manage every day including chronic pain, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and insomnia. The traditional approach is to treat these diseases with pharmaceuticals that often come with negative side effects. But many of these chronic conditions can be treated with medical marijuana without inflicting the same negative side effects.

Many seniors are skeptical at first, because they think marijuana is something for young people looking to get high rather than a legitimate medicine. For many seniors, though, once they open up to the possibility of using marijuana as medication, they may be pleased with its therapeutic effects. Most do not smoke it with the intention of getting high, and some seniors who use medicinal marijuana prefer edibles. This allows them to enjoy the medicinal powers without getting high.

Constant pain and anxiety makes it difficult sleep, and this affects many other aspects of life which can lead to even more health complications. Many seniors find that a couple tokes before bed, or a bite of a magic brownie, can be just the thing to give them a solid night’s sleep. Marijuana is also a strong anti-nauseant so not only seniors, but anyone undergoing chemotherapy can benefit, as it will settle their stomach and make them hungry. The beauty of it is that one joint can do the same job as a salad of various pills.

“One medication (cannabis) for 20 ailments instead of 20 pills from one condition and another 19 for side effects like heartburn for sleeping meds, antidepressants for the sleeping pills, etc. The side effects cause more problems. As we get older, we have more issues,” writes Dr. Beth Fisher, a senior citizen medical marijuana user and moderator of seniormedicalcannabis.com.

“Many of my seniors have decimated their pharmacy bills through the use of medical Cannabis. That means they have more money for food, heat, housing, etc,” she says. “These seniors (and I am one of them) take little or no pharma, have strong bones, quick reflexes, and a well functioning brain.”

Craig Jones, spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada, told the Globe & Mail he sees a trend among baby boomers that are discovering medicinal benefits in a drug they tried socially in their youth.

“For some older people, they never bought into the hysteria, the reefer madness, and they circled back to it because they enjoyed the experience, the side effects as they call it, and it’s an easily tolerated analgesic for chronic non-malignant pain,”  Jones said.

In the US, seniors seeking access to medicinal marijuana have a battle on their hands. In many states you can be sentenced to several decades in jail just for possessing even a gram of cannabis. Seniors want to comply with the law, but to do that and gain access to medical marijuana is challenging.

Some older Americans are hoping to spread the word about the benefits of marijuana. The Silver Tour , founded by Robert Platshorn in 2010, is a non-profit organization with the mandate of educating seniors about the value of marijuana as medicine, and lobbying for better access to it. Platshorn spent almost 30 years in jail for being involved in a marijuana smuggling ring in the 1970s. Once released, he dedicated his life to lobbying for the cause convinced that seniors need it more than anyone else.

On June 16, 2013 the Silver Tour, along with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, lobbied Congress for medical marijuana access after crowdfunding $11,230 on GoFundMe.com.  The event was a success with more than 150 seniors and veterans lobbying more than 200 members of Congress.

“They had never seen so many seniors bent on getting safe legal access to medical marijuana,” Platshorn says in an interview. “They lobbied for HS 1523, a bill to keep the fed government from enforcing federal marijuana laws in states with legal marijuana. It helped tip the federal scale and Eric Holder later announced that the feds would no longer interfere with states that allow cannabis.”

He isn’t the only one out there who has been rocking the boat. Dr. Fisher writes, “Other senior groups are marching at state and local protests, speaking with residents in private nursing facilities, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers.”

Platshorn created a video called “Should Grandma Smoke Pot” advocating for the cause. Seniors can donate money to the Silver Tour to buy air time on local television networks.

Platshorn adds: “There are also groups in the US and Canada using my format to put on Silver Tour shows at senior communities and public venues. (On Nov 13) I did a Skype appearance for a group in British Colombia that was showing Grandma to a group that is planning to educate Canadian seniors.”

Seniors often clamour to voting booths, and Platshorn believes that politicians will listen to these constituents. As he says, there is nothing more terrifying to a politician than a group of angry seniors.

Photo via Silver Tour


Chris Riddell is a freelance writer born in Toronto, and living in Montreal. He has a journalism background and writes about business, technology, and urban life for print and the web. He encourages you to visit his website Riddell Creative to find out more about what he does, and to hire him for any writing jobs you might have.