NORML’s Eleven Surprising Things About Marijuana That Seniors Need to Know

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director November 3, 2012

    [Editor’s note: Going into Tuesday’s historic vote in six states on legalization and medical cannabis ballot initiatives, one of the last, but not too unsurprising hold out demographics in America to fully embrace cannabis law reform are senior citizens.

    Please share the below essay, a distillation of author Laurel Dewey’s wonderfully readable book Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, with friends and family in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, Arkansas and Massachusetts.

    Also, checkout the great work of the Silver Tour, coordinated by Robert Platshorn, which is the premiere public advocacy project today reaching out to America’s senior citizens about medical cannabis and the need for law reforms.]

    By Laurel Dewey

    During the nearly two years I spent researching my book, Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, I met a lot of seniors who were intrigued with the idea of using marijuana to either replace their prescription medications or eliminate them completely. The problem was that most of these people had either never used marijuana or had bought hook, line and sinker into the fervent propaganda campaigns against the herb. Many of the seniors I interviewed told me they’d be open to using the herb if they knew it was effective and safe. Based on my conversations with them, I complied a list of the most common questions and concerns they had. In addition, some of the seniors shared their observations and reactions with me when they used marijuana for the first time.

    1. Marijuana is SAFER than prescription medications.

    This might be hard to believe if you’ve been trained to believe the propaganda campaigns but it’s absolutely true. According to the CDC, in 2008, 36,450 deaths were attributed to prescription drug overdose. How many people have died from using marijuana? NONE. Ever. If you look at the stats, acetaminophen is more dangerous than marijuana, leading to the death of over 450 people annually. And the “side effects” of marijuana are minor in comparison to the side effects of many prescription drugs. You will NEVER see a warning such as, “This drug may increase the likelihood of suicide or suicidal thoughts,” connected to marijuana. Sadly, the same cannot be said for other medications.

    2. Marijuana is not addictive.

    Ask any responsible individual who uses marijuana and they will tell you that the herb is not physically addictive. People can use marijuana daily and then stop it “cold turkey” and their body will not revolt with shakes, tremors or sweat-soaked withdrawal. Ask that same marijuana user and he/she will happily tell you that marijuana is “habitual” and “a pleasant respite” from pain, anxiety and stress. Looking forward to feeling that relief is more akin to looking forward to reconnecting with an old friend than the anxiousness that surrounds “getting your next fix.” As one woman told me, “I’m addicted to getting a good night’s sleep. Marijuana helps make that possible because it forces my mind to stop racing and I can finally relax.”

    3. Marijuana can increase the uptake of certain pharmaceutical drugs, allowing one to reduce the daily dose of their medication.

    Research shows that certain cannabinoids—especially the psychoactive cannabinoid THC—within the marijuana plant can and do increase the delivery of various classes of drugs. For example, marijuana naturally lowers blood pressure and often regulates it over time. Thus, if you are taking blood pressure medicine while also using marijuana, you need to be watchful and keep an eye on your blood pressure. Opiates are typically enhanced when marijuana is used concurrently. The bottom line is that marijuana has the potential for accentuating the effect(s) of many popular drugs because it has the capability of also replacing those drugs for some users. That brings us to #4…

    4. Marijuana can and does replace multiple OTC and prescription medications.

    One of the obvious complaints seniors have regarding their daily medications is that the first pill often causes side effects that the second one is supposed to “fix.” But that rarely happens and more drugs are typically prescribed, until the patient doesn’t know whether their medicine is doing them more harm than good. Marijuana is a multiple dimensional healing plant that targets varied conditions such as inflamed joints, high blood pressure, chronic pain, digestive disorders, constipation, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, cognitive awareness and more. Thus, this herb could easily replace close to one hundred percent of what’s in senior’s medicine cabinet right now.

    5. Marijuana does not cause brain damage or lower IQ.

    “I don’t want to use anything that’ll make me more dingy than I already am!” I heard this comment a lot from seniors. Some were genuinely convinced that if they took one puff of a marijuana cigarette, their mental capacity would sharply diminish and remain that way. While neophytes may need to learn how to “train their brains” when they use marijuana, there is absolutely no documentation that shows the herb reduces or “kills brain cells.” In fact, the opposite is possibly true. Studies with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients indicate that the herb gradually encourages new neural pathway development in the brain and could be a neuron protector, allowing those with impaired brain function to potentially halt further degeneration and even elicit enhanced cerebral function. Furthermore, marijuana actually encourages creative problem solving, with some users reporting being able to “figure out solutions to problems I’ve been struggling with for a long time.”

    6. There are specific marijuana strains that have been bred to remove “the high.”

    A certain percentage of the seniors I talked to were adamant when they told me, “If I could get the medical benefit from the plant without the high, I’d consider it.” That’s absolutely possible now, thanks to a cannabinoid called CBD (Cannabidiol). Plant breeders are working overtime to develop “high CBD strains” that either have no THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana) or have a small percentage of it. CBD is great for inflammation, eases pain, stimulates bone growth, suppresses muscular spasms, reduces anxiety and increases mental focus.

    7. You do NOT have to smoke marijuana to gain the benefits from it.

    Understandably, a lot of seniors either can’t smoke due to health issues or choose not to smoke. And thanks to the “stoner persona,” they believe that the only other way to take the herb is via the ubiquitous “pot” brownie. The fact is that marijuana can be added to just about any regular recipe in the form of cannabis infused butters or oils. For example, you can replace your salad dressing oil with “canna-oil” (marijuana infused olive oil) and discreetly ingest it at mealtime. There are also liquid extracts, syrups, lozenges, candies, chocolates, etc. to choose from. Liquid extracts allow users to “titrate” or regulate their dose. In other words, one can literally take the extract drop by drop every ten minutes or so until they reach the point of physical or mental relief they’re after. For those who miss smoking and like inhaling marijuana, vaporizing is alternative to smoking. Vaporizing allows the user to inhale the heat sensitive essential oils while smoking the herb tends to burn those up.

    8. Marijuana-infused products can be used topically for effective relief from cuts, burns and inflammatory pain.

    Most people can’t believe the topical powers of this ancient herb until they see it in action for themselves. One woman suffered a moderate burn on her finger that was quite painful. Her niece applied a small amount of a concentrated marijuana salve and bandaged it. The woman reported that her finger stopped hurting almost immediately and within three days new skin had grown over the burn. A simple marijuana-infused salve can diminish arthritic joint pain and works quite well for low back discomfort. And there is NO cerebral psycho-activity from topical use of marijuana-infused products.

    9. Marijuana use will not necessarily make you fat.

    A lot of seniors may not know much about marijuana but they have heard about “the munchies” that the herb is purported to encourage. Yes, it’s true that this plant can stimulate the appetite but the distinction should be made that appetite “enhancement” is also likely. What this means is that if a senior is not interested in food, if they use marijuana and then take a bite of food, the taste and texture of that bite is often improved and the desire to experience that same taste sensation again is increased. The concern about “getting fat” when you use marijuana is not a fait accompli. If you need to put on extra weight, marijuana can help make that happen. But there are also those who use marijuana daily in their food and report either losing extra pounds or stabilizing at a weight that better suits them.

    10. There are thousands of marijuana strains and they are good for different things.

    One strain does not fit all. There are strains that are specific for anxiety and strains that are targeted for insomnia. You wouldn’t want to take a strain that is meant for deep and restful sleep when you needed to interact and function with friends and family. Likewise, ingesting a strain that is meant for social interaction and creative problem solving when you really just want to get some sleep would not be your best choice. Most of the seniors I talked to didn’t know the difference between an Indica strain and a Sativa strain. And Indica is more sedating to the body and mind while a Sativa is much more elevating and energizing. Even when one finds a marijuana strain that consistently works for them, it can be advantageous for seniors to try different strains because tolerance to the same strain has been known to build up.

    11. Marijuana can be fun.

    One thing I noticed with the seniors I talked to is that many of them feel like life has no excitement left. Then, after using marijuana, many of them gushed to me about they “haven’t laughed that hard in years,” or how they noticed something about their surroundings that they’d never seen before. “Life,” as one woman expressed it, “was enhanced.” Colors were more vivid, music was crisper, her morning coffee tasted better and overall, she felt “reacquainted” with the world around her. Others told me that they enjoyed better social interaction and were able to “forget” or “leave behind” their doldrums and grief and “breathe in life again.” For those seniors who have become stuck in their ways, marijuana can afford them the opportunity to be more creative and even experiment with ideas and concepts that are outside their scope of comfort.

    What I took away from all these wonderful people was the realization that marijuana has the potential to improve seniors’ lives on multiple levels. For those who enjoyed it, it was their ally for physical maladies and a friend to them when sadness, anxiety or depression lurked closer. For those who were intrigued by it but were also nervous about what they’d been told, education—free from propaganda—was the key to unlocking their courage and giving a little plant the chance to change their life.

    *                                               *                                         *

    Laurel Dewey is the best selling author of the Jane Perry thriller series as well as the standalone novel, Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, the first fiction novel featuring medical marijuana in Colorado. Laurel lives with her husband and two orange cats in rural Western Colorado.

    Author’s homepage

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    Email Contact: laurel_dewey@laureldewey.com


    54 responses to “NORML’s Eleven Surprising Things About Marijuana That Seniors Need to Know”

    1. Big Herb says:

      Good stuff 🙂

    2. Kyla says:

      Let me preface this by saying I support marijuana legalization, and medical marijuana (although the way it’s handled is kinda BS). I also believe that DARE etc. have grossly overstated the risks of marijuana.

      But this article *bothers* me. Don’t say things like “Marijuana is SAFER than prescription medications.” Or “You will NEVER see a warning such as, “This drug may increase the likelihood of suicide or suicidal thoughts,” connected to marijuana. Sadly, the same cannot be said for other medications.” That last one is pretty clearly a dig at SSRIs. Because there is evidence that if one is already has, or is predisposed to, mental illness, especially bipolar or things on the schizo sprectrum, marijuana can exacerbate them badly.

      If you’re going to advocate medical marijuana, don’t gloss over real risks.

      [Editor’s note: OK….what pray tell are medical marijuana’s “real risks” that worry you?]

      • Jamo says:

        The great thing about legalization of this amazing plant is that we can now do research on it and be able to find out what strain makes one more “paranoid” than the other. Or which one acts like a “valium” VS a “Vicodin”. The stigma behind the plant has materialized out of thin air and there is nothing to back it. The flower child era was laced with countless drugs and it was all about “free love” and parties. There is a whole new energy behind this movement I feel. Its not a bunch of stoners trying to get f’d up. All walks of life are seeing the benefits and are turning a blind eye no longer. I am excited about this and as long as we can minimize the “gangster drug dealer & addict” types that give the industry a bad name, people will continue to see how absolutely and completely SAFE this plant is!!! Is there any drug in this world that you can not overdose on besides Cannibis??? I’ll use cannabis ANY DAY over a pill with a list side-effects worse than the ailment I’m taking it for!!!!!!!

    3. Dennis L says:

      I like using a vaporizer to consume my medical herb. Easier than edibles to control dosage, and very tasty!

    4. phrtao says:

      What are the bad points – there needs to be a balance ?

      1) Your health insurance will not pay for it

      2) You can be sent to jail for a very long time if caught

      3) You can be discriminated against and not allowed to participate in many aspects of society

      … Wait a moment all those are consequences of the current legal status – so the only bad thing is the LAW. hmmm some one should do something about that 😎

      [Editor’s note: LOL! Right on!!]

    5. Fed-Up says:

      It’s good that the seniors are learning about the medical aspects of cannabis,but it is not like its completely foreign to them.

      Even though it’s hard to beleive,the “flower children of the psychadelic age of the mid to late 60’s are in their 70s now. And the stoner generation that came right after, in the mid 1970s,the ones that listened to Led -Zeppelin while blasting bong loads of columbian with all the seeds and stems in their stash, are approaching their 60s

      Those demographics can not be ignored.

      They basically know that cannabis is a relatively benign substance in contrast with everything else going on in society,and are not as easily swayed by the propoganda tactics that the earlier generations where.

      The Frank Sinatra -Dean Martin – Martini swiggin generation(God bless them) that where in the
      middle- age’s when Ronald Reagan was president, are now mostly in convelescent homes or have gone on to the other side. They are, where, more impressionable, having been raised during the 30s
      with the “reefer madness” campaigns that where going on at the time.

      So i think the ‘older set, are a significant factor of why the percentages of approval for cannabis legislation is growing.

    6. michael says:

      Excellent info everyone should be aware of. Stamp out ignorance.

    7. john w says:

      Im always willing to do work wtvr it may be. From mowingg the lawn to running errands…wtvr it may be.

    8. Bradson says:

      Yes, indeed. Marijuana is a blessing for older folks. I’ve been using it on and off for over 40 years whenever I could find it and afford those outrageous black market prices or, ideally, when surreptitious garden efforts work and provide a free supply.

    9. Galileo Galilei says:

      Number 11 brought a smile to my face. This is the original meaning of ‘turned on’.

    10. Charles K. says:

      Hello, I would like to share my story.

      I grew up as the only child and sadly my parents were drug addicts and

      divorced when I was around 8 years of age. My father had a gambling

      problem and a terrible drinking habit. My mother tried hiding her

      cigerettes and pill popping habits from me but I could either see it in

      her face or smell the disgusting odor from time to time.

      As I grew up in Southern California, we were shown the terrible effects

      of drugs through the D.A.R.E program and the countless police officers

      who came in as ‘Special guests’ to inform our classroom about drug usage

      as well. Again, marijuana was part of it, but little did I know that I

      was being greatly misinformed.

      Gradually over the years of schooling and tutoring, I excelled

      academically and kept a promise to myself never to fall victim to the

      addiction that my parents suffered. However, that did not stop me from

      experimenting conservatively like any curious adolescent and I tried

      drinking with friends, popping pain pills, even tweaking crystal meth

      which I definitely do not approve of.

      Luckily, by the time I reached age 19, I joined the United States Navy as

      a Nuclear Reactor Operator and stopped experimenting everything and

      altogether. Sadly that wasn’t the case with my other friends who couldn’t

      find an outlet and continued to dwell in that destructive behavior.

      Again, I excelled for many years and ironically it was this time that I

      experimented again but with Marijuana. Oh, what a terrible experience

      this was! I must have inhaled too much of it for my first time, because I

      ended up very paranoid and could not eat my pizza because I thought I was

      lost in the restaurant.

      Anyways, a couple more years went by, I realized I could not drink

      anymore because I got sick each time and I was never an alcohol person

      and yet, my father was. After I was discharged I was hooked on Klonopin

      for agitation and anxiety and that continued for 8 miserable years, which

      the Military had no problems of prescribing a LIFETIME supply of. And of

      course, I learned the hard away that Klonopin was one of the worst

      prescription drugs to be addicted to.

      In May of 2011, I finally quit Klonopin and each time I visit the VA

      Hospital, I tell them with great pride that it was Medical marijuana that

      help me quit that prescription death grip. I could go into detail on the

      hellish experiences I was going through but that is another story!

      The insulting thing was that none of my Doctors at the VA believed that

      story and even worse was that they got upset over the fact that I was

      taking Cannabis in the first place! I was very offended to say the least

      and on top of that, after kicking Klonopin the Doctors asked me if I was

      interested in taking a different prescription!

      At that point, I was convinced that the whole VA system was a house full

      of robots working for Pharmaceuticals. I could not figure out how these

      respectable people could continue to be ill informed and even worse

      continue to give out these prescription drugs like candy? I was very

      upset over the whole thing and I walked out disgusted and never returned.

      Sadly, I also quit marijuana about a month after I quit Klonopin because

      I wanted to see how far I could go with being free and pure again.

      Cannabis that ultimately saved my life, went out of my life as well. The

      funny thing is, stopping marijuana was a cake-walk compared to stopping

      Klonopin! And during all these months, I always reflected and looked back

      on how lucky I was and how fortunate to not fall victims like my parents

      and friends did. Sometimes, I want to smoke marijuana again to ease my mind, to help me sleep,to think openly again, but I just

      have this guilt feeling that I am doing something wrong, that it is STILL

      illegal somewhere.

      I am very grateful about Washington and Colorado, never in my lifetime

      did I expect something like this to happen and I hope it does in just a

      couple of days. I am also very proud of my achievement. It is one of my

      deepest personal goals and I never figured out why VA Doctors could not

      see this, and why they would rather discuss moral opinions but I suppose

      that is something not to stress over.

      I have been drug free for 535 days and still counting! I don’t drink

      alcohol, no cigarettes, no pill, not even Tylenol for that matter, no

      caffeine, barely any sugar and I go from vegetarian to vegan and back

      from time to time. It is the most beautiful feeling in the world and each

      day I wake up thanking the cosmos and I have never been happier. Not for

      one second do I ever think about going back. I don’t think I ever will!
      I also haven’t done cannabis in a long time either but if Washingon

      and/or Colorado passes, I just might celebrate. Well that is my story,

      Thank you Cannabis Sativa! ~Cheers