It’s been nearly three years since Ottawa legalized the recreational use of cannabis and one of the big surprises has been just how many seniors are utilizing pot products for health reasons – or just plain fun.
Statistics Canada found that while cannabis use is still less among seniors than other age groups, it is growing among the 65-plus group faster than any other age cohort, from about 40,000 recent users in 2012 to 400,000 in 2019. Those numbers have likely grown since.
For older Canadians who are thinking about using cannabis, either for their health or recreational use, the good news-bad news is that there is a bewildering array of options at the local (legal) cannabis store; from “flower” (dried cannabis that can be smoked or vaped, as well as pre-rolled joints), oil concentrates, edibles, creams and other topicals and beverages.
Given the overwhelming variety of pot products available, older Canadians might want to seek out some advice from trusted friends, cannabis store vendors and last but not least, medical professionals.
There are also online clinics for those seeking advice. (This writer spoke with a doctor at an online clinic that dispenses prescriptions for ailments such as pain, anxiety and sleep issues for people seeking alternatives to traditional medications.)
THC or CBD? Or both?
There are two primary compounds in cannabis: THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, which provides the psychoactive (high), and CBD, or cannabidiol, which delivers some proven and promised health benefits.
Both compounds affect functions such as sleep, mood, appetite and memory.
“A lot of seniors I know are addicted to their sleeping pills and pain meds,” says Sherry Bennett, a medical cannabis educator who works with seniors through her Richmond Hill, Ont., company Bayview Concierge Inc.
“Medical cannabis doesn’t come with the risk of life-threatening addiction or overdose.”
Ms. Bennett, who herself uses a CBD-THC oil blend daily for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, advises seniors to go through the legal route to obtain cannabis rather than the black-market dealers who may be selling tainted products.
A journey through the cannabis aisle
As a first-timer, walking into a cannabis store can be a bit intimidating – and eye-opening. At a Dutch Love store in Toronto’s east end, which will serve as the basis for this writer’s inaugural pot-store experience, there’s a distinct Apple-store vibe with the white-on-white décor and open space, complete with extremely enthusiastic and helpful staff. Below is a takeaway from the induction into the legal cannabis universe.
Old-timers refer to it as ‘bud.’ Today, however, flower can have a much greater high than weed from the 1960s and 1970s. And it’s better packaged: No baggy full of stems and seed, just the dried feminized flower in a non-descript container (due to government marketing restrictions). At Dutch Love, for the 3.5-gram weight, dried flower ranges in price from $27 up to $90 with varying levels of THC and CBD. The store has dozens of varieties with memorable names such as Dark Helmet (21 to 26 per cent THC) and producing a high described as relaxed, sleepy and happy; or Alien SinMint Cookies (with 20 to 29 per cent THC) with promised effects including becoming calm, energetic, happy and relaxed. Cannabis consumers can also choose pre-rolled joints with many of the same varieties of flower.
For those trying to avoid the overwhelming odour of burning cannabis (apartment dwellers, for example), vaping is a good alternative. Vaporizers heat up the pot or concentrate to release the THC and CBD for inhalation. Vaping is widely considered to be safer than smoking marijuana, but there isn’t much research on the relative risk reduction from various forms of vaping. People can vape physical weed or choose pre-filled cartridges and pods, depending on the device being used. The “high” from smoking or vaping is almost instantaneous and can last between one to four hours on average, although cannabis stays in the system far longer.
This category includes gel capsules, gummies, chocolates and beverages and concentrated oils for both medical and recreational use. Licensed sellers will have a variety of blended products leaning either to THC or CBD. The downsides of edibles include the fact that dosages can vary and the desired effect is not immediate. Slower-acting ingested cannabis can last longer (four to eight hours, according to various sources), which is a plus for people using edibles for pain relief, insomnia or anxiety.
Offered in the form of creams and roll-ons, or even a CBD bath bomb, these products are geared toward those looking for medicinal benefits. For instance, Dutch Love sells a strawberry lip balm that’s 1 per cent THC and 50 per cent CBD. Lips never felt so chill. Cannabis skin cream is also popular and comes in different concentrates of CBD and THC.
The preference among seniors is …
Given all the various forms of cannabis available, what are older Canadians typically using? According to data compiled by the Strainprint Technologies’ cannabis app, marijuana usage by Canadians aged 55-plus is dominated by dried flower.
Among older users, more than one-half (55 per cent) use dried flower with nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) choosing to vape it with the remainder smoking it. Another 37 per cent use oil-based cannabis products and a small minority (4 per cent) use vape pens.
Regardless of how you use it, experts recommend newbies start with small doses. Everyone will respond to cannabis differently – and the effects will depend on what types of cannabis you use and the strengths.
And if you’re still confused after talking to the experts, and you’re brave enough, consider asking your adult children. Chances are, especially since legalization, they’ve likely tried a strain or two.