More and more studies are showing the effectiveness of cannabis as medicine – treating everything from arthritis to cancer. But, for millions of older people suffering from these ailments, getting started with cannabis can seem daunting.
Rielle Capler, a cannabis researcher at the University of British Columbia, supports the use of medical marijuana among seniors but acknowledges there are obstacles to older patients enjoying its benefits. “Sometimes they really need some hand-holding. It’s complicated to understand exactly what to use and how to use it, there are legalities to consider, and some stigma still. Being able to get personalized support through that process is very helpful.”
So, what are you waiting for? If you think they would benefit from a little green, go ahead and have the weed talk with your mom or dad. Here are a few points to help get you started.
Involve a Doctor
Ideally your parent can go right to their primary care doctor, but many older people are reluctant to do so, and with good reason. Asking for a medical marijuana waiver has soured more than a few patient-doctor relationships when the doctor turns out to be anti-cannabis. Capler confirmed that this happens all too often. “It’s obviously a painful thing and a real loss for some – to lose their primary physician over it.” She advises that patients come readied with studies or articles to help explain what they’re looking for and why, but also to be prepared for their doctor simply not to be open to it.
Another option? Skip the primary care route and go to one of the many clinics that specialize in medical marijuana prescriptions. These clinics charge, but if it can help your parent avoid conflict with a primary care physician, it may be worth it.
No matter what, it’s important to get a doctor involved – both to cover your parent legally, and to discuss potential drug interactions, dosage, and more. Doctors are becoming very well-versed in medical marijuana, thanks in part to outreach by licensed producers. Says Catherine Flaman, Clinical Strategy Communications, WeedMD, “We provide education and support to the senior community, but also have a strong education program for health care professionals because, ultimately, they are the ones informing their patients.”
How to Source Your Weed
Health Canada will remind you that the only legal way to buy weed is through one of these licensed producer/sellers. Some even offer senior discounts.
Another important thing to note: as of right now, medical cannabis is only covered by one health insurance provider in Canada, Sun Life. This will hopefully change as education and research continue to bolster cannabis’s treatment as medication, and in fact there are lot of people working to make that happen. For example, the Arthritis Society just launched a resource kit encouraging employers to cover medical cannabis costs for employees.
For now, though, you might consider helping your parents pay for the medical marijuana they need. For many fixed-income seniors, the added expense of a non-covered medication is simply not an option. And it has the potential to do them a world of good.
Start Small and Go From There
You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth saying again – today’s pot is NOT your mother’s marijuana. Cannabis cultivation has come a long way since the sixties, and chances are – even if your parents used to indulge – they’re in for a surprise if they just go ahead and light a fat one. Best to start off small and work slowly to find the dosage that’s just right.
Also: don’t ignore setting. While you may love nothing better than heading out on the town after inhaling, your mom or dad may feel differently. For their first couple times imbibing, make sure they are somewhere they are completely at ease, with just one or two people they feel comfortable with. After they find the right dosage and acclimate to it, they can start to incorporate their cannabis use into daily activities.
Know Your Strains
Cannabis is not one-size fits all. There are various strain types, typically categorized as either sativa, indica or hybrid. While these designations are being researched and ultimately strain effects depend on everyone’s individual body chemistry, here are general points of interest.
Sativa is strong and heady, and has been used to treat depression, fatigue, and nausea, as well as pain. It’s also known to induce paranoia in some. Bonus: Sativa plants have by far the most pain fighting, sedating, and relaxing effect, at least according to MedicalMarijuana.ca.
Indica is the preferred strain for those prone to paranoia, and is often recommended for people just starting out, especially if they harbor mixed feelings about medical marijuana.
Canabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating compound in cannabis, is another option, with plenty of pain-relieving properties and none of the intoxicating effect of traditional weed, thanks to its low THC content. It is often used to treat anxiety, seizures, and more.
Eat Your Weed
Imagine baking up a big batch of cookies for mom, just like she used to do for you, but – you know – with weed. For a lot of cannabis newbies, edibles present a friendlier face than smoking or vaping. They don’t irritate the mouth or lungs the way a bong hit might and can help overcome hang-ups many people still have around “smoking reefer”. One thing to remember: dosage and resulting effects can be difficult to control in the home kitchen, so baker beware. Familiarize yourself with the recipes of Laurie Wolf, dubbed “the Martha Stewart of marijuana edibles”, for a primer on creating home-cooked cannabis treats.
Of course, for some people there’s no need to ingest or inhale anything at all. Topical creams and oils are increasingly popular and are a good fit for people suffering from skin, muscle, or joint conditions.
Aside from patches, topicals are non-intoxicating – a real draw for many seniors who want the health benefits without the high. While these types of products largely aren’t legal in Canada yet, there’s a workaround. “While we don’t offer topicals, we do have patients in our community that are putting drops of oils into their creams,” says Flaman. “We are seeing a demand for this and as regulations are defined, it is something we’re thinking about.”
Find a Community
Most of us didn’t learn to smoke weed in a vacuum. We relied on friends to show us how to enjoy it properly, didn’t we? Your parents are social creatures, too. By all means, show them the ropes yourself, but if there are medical marijuana support groups nearby, particularly for seniors (check senior centers and adult care centers), your parents might appreciate sharing with and learning from their peers, too.
Adjust Other Medications as Necessary
Once your parents are puffing away, remember to take a look at reducing other medications. Marijuana can take the place of anti-nausea meds, over-the-counter analgesics, and more.
For patients in a high degree of pain, cannabis can be a powerful alternative to opioids. Capler, who has worked with patients in end-of-life care, explains it like this: “With opiates, you’re often not able to be present. Being able to use cannabis, which doesn’t have that same effect, people are able to be present with the people in their lives at this important time, and that is really invaluable.”
Story by Grace Per Lee
Illustration by Elena Boils
The preceding is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to condone the use or consumption of cannabis. For more information, please refer to our disclaimer.