By Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director
[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.]
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 aSativa 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.
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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.\