Seeing through the smoke

Christopher Gallagher

Marijuana use is up in one age group, and it’s not who you might think

Ar 171229686
Adobe Stock
Ar 171229686
Adobe Stock

Who uses cannabis? High school kids? Yes, but, according to a new federal survey, fewer are doing so in Colorado and the other states since legalization. College students? Sure, college is the place where we are encouraged to experiment and grow, to learn from both our book and professors and from our experiences as we progress from youth to full adulthood; expanding consciousness has long been part of that process. Adult use has risen in the legal states as marijuana has become a viable social alternative to alcohol, and ridiculous stigmas surrounding use have come to be seen for the smokescreens that they always were.

There is one demographic that may surprise you – the elderly. The most recent study, conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, indicated that use among adults 65 years and older rose by 250 percent between 2006 and 2013. Good on ya, oldsters – get that green!

The reasons for this are varied and make sense for an aging population. Cannabis can be helpful with a wide variety of maladies that will visit us all one day, should we be lucky enough to survive. Pain, sleep issues, fluctuation in mood – these are issues that are likely to trouble us in one way or another as we age. Add in the various conditions that cannabis has been shown to treat as effectively or more effectively than the cornucopia of multicolored prescriptions filling the daily dispensers of so many of our friends and relatives, and cannabis reveals itself as a comforting ally that can help us gracefully deal with the passage of time and its effects on our flesh and bones.

Cannabis has a history as old as human civilization; having been used for thousands of years (it is mentioned among 1,900-year-old Chinese medical texts based on oral traditions going back as far as the 28 B.C.) and, before its prohibition here in the U.S. in the 1930s, it was an active ingredient in scores of over-the-counter medicines. An early mention of cannabis as a treatment in the modern era of medicine can be found in an 1890 issue of the British medical journal, Lancet, in which it is named as an effective therapy for “sun-downing” dementia, a condition characterized by restless confusion at nighttime that is not present during daylight hours.

There are many positive qualities cannabis offers to contemporary seniors that might not be apparent. First, and in many ways most important: due its ability to treat pain, it mitigates the necessity of doctors to prescribe and patients to take potentially fatal opiate medicines (which are doled out to seniors at a rate many times that of patients under 65). Another is the option for patients to reduce the number of total medications taken daily by substituting cannabis, a nontoxic, nonaddictive multifaceted option. This in place of a wide range of prescription medications with their sometimes-troubling side effects. Cannabis can be used topically to reduce the aches of arthritis and neuropathy. It can be used to stimulate appetite, an effect that can combat nutrient deficiencies. Cannabis need not be smoked; it is a very powerful treatment in its edible forms. It need not always get those who consume it high; CBD is very effective at alleviating seizures and tremors without psychoactive effects.

Cannabis use by the elderly is almost certain to rise during the next several decades as the Woodstock Generation ages. Now is the time to investigate whether cannabis is a viable alternative for our loved ones on their journey in the later days of their lives.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at chrstphrgallagher@gmail.com.