Seniors stigma using Cannabis

Understanding The Cannabis Stigma in Seniors

I have never understood why so many people have either been ashamed of their cannabis usage and have “been in the cannabis closet” or they refused to try it because of the stigma. Then, I read a few articles explaining why some people, often seniors, fear cannabis or fear being outed for using it. Much of it made a lot of sense. This article examines the different reasons that perpetuate the “cannabis stigma” and strategies to counteract them.

It is worth noting the demographics of cannabis usage and users since 2006:

  1. Cannabis usage increased across all demographics by 250% from 2006-2013
  2. Since 2013, that figure has doubled
  3. Cannabis consumption is up among seniors, with an increase of interest and use in CBD products.
  4. Age 65 is a tipping point. Those below the age of 65 use medical cannabis at nearly the same rates as other adults.
  5. In 2017, 9% of 50-64 year olds and 3% of those over 64 years of age used cannabis
  6. There is a significant drop of cannabis usage by those who are above the age of 65
  7. There is an even bigger drop at age 70 and above

Reasons That Seniors Give For Not Using Cannabis

  • They are afraid of it and associate it with street drugs like heroin and crack
  • They can’t get past the smoking and the high
  • Because it is still federally illegal, they have been taught that it is wrong to break the law and fear punishment if they use it
  • They don’t want to be judged or stereotyped as stoners and fear it will be used against them
  • Cannabis carries too much of a negative connotation and many seniors are afraid to have open conversations about it
  • Those who are still working fear they will test positive on a drug test; even those using CBD only products
  • They are unaccustomed to dealing with the psychotropic effects of THC such as couchlock and lightheadness which may result in falls and potential serious harm
  • In the case of black seniors, they view cannabis as being responsible for the incarceration of so many young, black men

It is now known that an individual’s diverse life experiences play a key role in their openness towards trying and using cannabis. If they have always lived in an environment that stokes the fears of the Reefer Madness Era and stigmatizes cannabis, they are very unlikely to try it. On the other hand, those seniors who smoked cannabis in the 1970s, but stopped when they got into their 20s and 30s, are more likely to try it again as seniors. For many boomers, their last encounter with cannabis involved buying a 1 oz baggie filled with flowers, stems, sticks and seeds from some shady character. When they walk into today’s medical cannabis dispensaries, they are speechless!

Education and Awareness Are Key To Changing Opinions

  1. Many baby boomers are beginning to experience chronic health problems. They are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the adverse side effects of prescription drugs which significantly diminish the quality of their lives. As a result, they are more willing than ever to try a natural approach in the form of medical cannabis products.
  2. More and more doctors are interested in learning about the endocannabinoid system and cannabis usage. Once they understand fully the benefits of cannabis, they are willing to talk to their senior patients about using it to replace their prescription drugs.
  3. Better access to legal cannabis products via beautifully appointed dispensaries gives the products credibility as a viable treatment option. Access to legal CBD products online and in stores removes the stigma of breaking the law.
  4. Educating senior cannabis consumers about cannabis is crucial. Many users have tried several different products that didn’t work for them and they gave up. Every potential cannabis patient must be aware that there is always a significant amount of trial and error in order to find the most beneficial cannabinoid profile, potency, delivery method and dosage.
  5. More research data using human clinical trials that validates cannabis as a legitimate treatment option, preferable to pharmaceuticals, may sway their minds.
  6. Many seniors who observed first-hand, a positive change in the health of a close friend or family member as the result of cannabis usage, are much more likely to try it themselves. Once they experience the benefits themselves, they are typically sold. They often go on to become advocates and educators.

One such person is Sue Taylor, a Catholic-school principal in Oakland, CA. She had watched in horror as many young black men in her community were arrested and incarcerated for non-violent drug charges. She was very much against cannabis usage and had never tried it. When one of her sons was studying at a university that offered training for the cannabis industry, she showed up there to “save him from drugs.” Her son convinced her to do research, visit senior care homes that used cannabis and see for herself. She was so impressed that she found a job at a dispensary.

Taylor went on to become the Commissioner on Aging in Alameda County, CA. She is certified to educate doctors and nurses about cannabis usage. She plans to open a dispensary and wellness center that caters to seniors in a predominantly black neighborhood. She does presentations at churches and senior centers. She jokes that many seniors initially will “sit frowning, with their arms folded across their chests.” She tells them she is not trying to convince anyone of anything. She is only there to educate them about the health benefits of cannabis.

Source:, Cannabis Use Up Among Seniors, Danielle Simone Brand, Nov. 5, 2018, How Seniors Joined The Cannabis Craze, Sara Davidson, April 20, 2018