Randy, 71, a retired firefighter living in Mississauga, Ontario, was growing tired of the effects of depression and PTSD, so he turned to his daughter for help. She works in the medical cannabis industry, and encouraged him to try cannabis. “She told me she’d seen it help many guys my age,” he says. Although he worried about spending money on a medicine that might not work, he calculated that it would be worth it if the cannabis reduced his reliance on other prescriptions.
It worked. Randy says that CBD oil tempers his irritability and angry outbursts, and reduces the shock he experiences from loud noises. At night, he takes a balanced oil (a mix of THC and CBD), which relieves the pain of his old firefighting injuries and helps him sleep.
Baby boomers like Randy are increasingly turning to cannabis as medicine. In fact, 23 per cent of current Canadian cannabis consumers are aged 45 or older, up from four per cent in 1975.
A natural alternative to pharmaceuticals
Like Randy, many patients start down the medical cannabis path because they’re not experiencing relief from their current prescriptions. Boomers may also be trying to avoid the negative side effects of their other prescriptions, and attracted to the idea of natural medicine.
“Some baby boomers are becoming increasingly concerned about the long-term effects of using pharmaceuticals like opioids and the possibility of overdose or death,” says Holly Bennett, marketing and communications manager at Apollo Cannabis Research Clinic. Indeed, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, in 2017 there were over 2,800 opioid-related deaths in Canada.
A friend or family member suggested cannabis
Boomers may be more likely to give the plant a second thought if a friend or family member suggests it use, relieving the fear of stigma and judgement. It often starts with a small sample from a friend, says Bennett, followed by surprisingly positive results. “For example, someone may have given them a cannabis-infused cookie and the person found it helped with a symptom they were suffering from, such as sleep issues,” she says. This begins the person on the path of seeking out a cannabis clinic to find out more. Even more persuasive is when a friend or family member has found relief from a shared condition by using cannabis.
Positive mental, physical and financial effects
Cannabis has been shown to positively affect conditions such as anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and tremors, and can also be a treatment for chronic pain and insomnia, among a host other symptoms and conditions affecting aging adults.
Less is known about how cannabis may be used to treat, and possibly prevent, Alzheimer’s disease, but early results are promising. A 2006 study in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChe), which is responsible for forming the amyloid plaques that contribute to Alzheimer’s. And a recent study out of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto found that Alzheimer’s patients treated with nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, were significantly less agitated and aggressive than those given a placebo.
The doctors leading the study noted that although other medicines exist for treating Alzheimer’s-related aggression, side effects can include stroke and even death. Moreover, reduced patient aggression resulted in decreased caregiver stress, presenting the potential for reduced healthcare costs from caregiver burnout.
According to the Canadian Health Institute, nearly a quarter of Canadians 65 and up take 10 or more prescription drugs. If cannabis can help with more than one symptom or condition – and it often does – it has the potential to supplement or completely replace several prescriptions, saving on healthcare spending and reducing the potential for adverse drug interactions.
The future of cannabis for aging Canadians
The sheer size of the boomer demographic means that even a small increase in treatment efficacy for a single condition can have a profound effect on national healthcare spending. And for individuals, when cannabis therapy works, the net effect of decreasing pharmaceutical side effects as well as symptoms like pain and anxiety, can lead to a dramatic improvement in quality of life. For Randy and others like him, that’s reason enough.