Pubdate: Mon, 01 May 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Adriana Barton
Page: L1


Adults in their 70s, 80s and 90s are trying medical marijuana for the
first time, hoping it will ease chronic pain, insomnia and depression
after pharmaceutical drugs have failed. Businesses are noticing - and
they are all in, Adriana Barton reports.

Around this time of year, Hope Bobowski can't wait to garden in the
flower beds outside her home near Keremeos, in the hills of southern
Interior British Columbia.

The petite 79-year-old loves card games and cooking for her
great-grandchildren, but the only thing that keeps her on her feet is
her daily dose of cannabidiol (CBD), a potent extract of cannabis or

She took her first spoonful last June, when the pain from
osteoarthritis in her back had become so bad that her husband Stan had
to dress her, do the cooking and help her in and out of bed. "I was
going downhill fast."

On TV, they saw a show about CBD oil. Her first thought was: "No way,
I'm not having anything to do with cannabis." The way she was brought
up, "you didn't go around drugs."

Then, she thought about the four to six pills of Tylenol 3, laced with
codeine, a narcotic analgesic, she took every day. She thought about
her doctor's suggestion that she try opioid painkillers. "You can get
hooked on that."

So, she tried about 10 drops of CBD oil her husband had obtained from
an unlicensed producer. Unlike THC - the psychoactive component in
cannabis - pure CBD has medicinal properties without any "high."

The next day, she said, "there was no pain."

Across the country, seniors are adding cannabis-rich tinctures, oils
and capsules to their medicine cabinets. Some - mainly boomers in
their mid-50s to early 70s - are rediscovering weed after going for
decades without a toke. But often, adults in their 70s, 80s and 90s
are trying cannabis for the first time, hoping the plant will ease
chronic pain, insomnia, depression and anxiety after pharmaceutical
drugs have failed.

In the United States, seniors have become the fastest-growing
demographic of cannabis users, CBS News reported last year.

Canada, with new legislation to legalize cannabis by 2018, could
follow suit. Recent data on the number of Canadian seniors using
cannabis are unavailable. But in 2013, Health Canada figures showed
that two-thirds of Canadians registered to purchase medical marijuana
were taking it to treat severe arthritis, more common among older adults.

On the unregulated side, many cannabis dispensaries are now actively
catering to seniors. In Victoria's Oaklands neighbourhood, a large
dispensary called Farmacy draws customers from nearby retirement homes
to a brightly lit space with nostalgic photos and vintage
apothecary-style display cases housing an array of tinctures, oils and

Weighing scales measure dried cannabis by the gram, in varieties such
as "granddaddy purple" and "blue dream." But don't ask for "bud."
Here, they're called "flowers."

Andrew Gill, manager of the dispensary since it opened two years ago,
estimates that at least 50 per cent of Farmacy's customers are over
the age of 55. "Make no mistake - we play classic rock every day
specifically for them."

Seniors interviewed for this article said they spend $10 to $50 a week
on cannabis products, depending on the severity of their condition.
Seniors' discounts are now available through licensed producers such
as Tilray, based in Nanaimo, B.C., and the Cannaclinics chain of
dispensaries in Vancouver and Toronto.

Other companies are offering standing-room-only info sessions in
libraries and seniors' centres everywhere from Sudbury, Ont., to
Summerland, B.C.

"Demand from seniors looking for information and access to medical
cannabis is definitely increasing," said Hilary Black, director of
patient education and advocacy at Canopy Growth Corp., the parent
company of three of Canada's largest licensed cannabis producers.

Earlier this month, Black spoke to a group of more than 100 seniors in
Qualicum Beach, B.C., at the invitation of the Probus Club, a social
network for retirees.

Some of them made sly comments like, "Oh, I bet I could teach you a
thing or two - I grew up in the sixties," she said. But Black
explained that with medical cannabis, patients need to learn the
difference between THC and CBD, and that dosage is important, down to
the milligram. By the end of the talk, "they realize that things have
really changed."

Many Canadians, seniors included, do not understand the difference
between licensed producers, which provide medical cannabis through the
mail under Health Canada regulations, and cannabis dispensaries that
operate illegal businesses, said Dr. Alan Bell, an assistant professor
in the department of family and community medicine at the University
of Toronto.

Another misconception is that medical cannabis always causes euphoria,
when products such as CBD oil do not. All too often, people assume
that using medical cannabis is "an excuse to get high," he said.
"That's a real stigma that is hanging on the product."

He notes that some of the most common afflictions of old age,
including mood problems, sleep issues and arthritic pain, may respond
well to medical cannabis.

For older patients suffering from chronic pain, Bell said he tends "to
use it ahead of opioids." Opioid painkillers are particularly
hazardous for seniors, increasing the risk of falls, mental confusion
and opioid dependence, he explained.

A 2016 study, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that
physicians wrote fewer prescriptions for elderly and disabled patients
who had legal access to medical marijuana. Researchers calculated that
in 2013, Medicare saved more than $165-million (U.S.) on prescription
drugs in the District of Columbia and 17 states with medical marijuana
laws in effect.

Nevertheless, Canadian medical organizations emphasize that more
research is needed to determine the extent of marijuana's potential
benefits and harms, and how best to treat patients with medical cannabis.

The Arthritis Society has dedicated $720,000 (Canadian) to medical
cannabis research between 2015 and 2019, and asked the federal
government for a parallel commitment.

Bell urges seniors interested in medical cannabis to talk to a family
doctor. Increasingly, doctors will either write the prescription
required by Health Canada, or refer a patient to a physician with more
experience in treating patients with medical cannabis, he said. Bell
instructs colleagues about the use of medical cannabis through a
continuing education program accredited by the College of Family
Physicians of Canada, for which he receives consultant fees from the
licensed medical marijuana industry.

He strongly discourages patients from purchasing cannabis from
storefront dispensaries, since "there is absolutely no quality control
- - they can make any claims that they choose."

But Chris Nuessler, a retired RCMP officer in Summerland argues that
Health Canada's medical marijuana program is too limited. Patients
with specific health problems may need access to hundreds of distinct
cannabis species, and different ratios of CBD to THC, before they find
something that works, he said. "Unfortunately, the licensed producers
just don't have the selection that people need or want."

Nuessler, 62, uses high-potency CBD oil from an unlicensed producer to
take the edge off post-traumatic stress disorder. He used to get
flashbacks to violent scenes from his service in Haiti and the former
Yugoslovia. Now, "I'm much more even keel." The product he takes has
no psychoactive effects, he added: "I'm not interested in the high."

Seniors tend to prefer edible cannabis products, such as oils. Few
choose to inhale, said Gill in Victoria. Many are former cigarette
smokers. "They fear the habit."

For all the talk about cannabis becoming as common as bifocals,
however, stereotypes about grizzled hippie stoners and the stigma of
"reefer madness" endure.

Milton Callwood, 46, fears authorities could remove his 92-year-old
father from his care if they discovered he is giving him cannabis from
a Vancouver dispensary. (Callwood agreed to an interview on the
condition he could use a pseudonym.)

His father suffers from Parkinson's disease and related dementia. In
the fall, shortly after Callwood's mother died, his father's
uncontrollable shaking and tremors intensified. He could not talk or
swallow normal food. "He was pretty much in a vegetative state."

Callwood got the idea to try cannabis from online forums and a video
showing improvements in a Parkinson's patient who had taken it.

In February, he drove his dad from their home in the suburbs to a
dispensary on Vancouver's upscale West Side. A staff member
recommended CBD oil mixed with THC. Since then, the tremors have
largely subsided, Callwood said. His father can chew a hamburger or
tell his son when he wants to go for a drive. "I have my dad back."

But, he added, "what if someone deems me unfit to take care of him
because I'm doing something that's considered in the grey zone, legally?"

Concerns about informed consent and evidence-based cannabis treatments
will no doubt remain, even after the federal government has hammered
out the bumps in its legalization plan.

In the meantime, seniors such as Bobowski say they have all the
evidence they need. Since she started taking her nightly spoonful of
CBD oil, she said she has slept soundly without any leg cramps or back
pain, and has stopped using pharmaceutical painkillers.

"I'm spreading the word."
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