Barbara Buck first tried cannabis when she was 17, and loved how it made her feel — more motivated and distinctly less depressed and anxious. But she had to give it up for 15 years because of random drug testing when she worked in the recreational therapy field with the elderly.
Now 54 with a new career path as a realtor, she’s one of the many people finding cannabis to be a great healer later on in life.
“The benefits for me have been wonderful,” she told INSIDER. “I make edibles for sleep and a pain salve that works wonderfully on sore joints and muscles. I don’t have depression issues and haven’t since using cannabis again.”
Buck also uses CBD — a molecule from cannabis that doesn’t make you feel intoxicated — to stay calm and clear-headed if she has a stressful day at work.
“For me cannabis just makes my life better,” she said. “It’s also been a Godsend for menopause symptoms. Cannabis and CBD help to regulate my mood, and help with hot flushes and sleep like nothing else I’ve tried.”
Cannabis, which can be smoked, taken orally with oils, teas, and edibles, or absorbed through the skin with balms and salves, contains hundreds of different molecules. Research over the past few years has tried to decipher their different uses and effects on the human body. Running alongside the science are the people taking their health into their own hands, passing on through word of mouth how cannabis products help with their ailments and wellness.
One demographic that appears to be reaping the benefits is the over-50s, who, after a period of changing attitudes, are now embracing it as a miracle cure for some of the problems that come with ageing.
How cannabis can help older people
Marc Lewis, the CEO of Remedy Review, an online hub full of the latest research and information about cannabis, told INSIDER that certain molecules can “empower your body to better regulate itself,” so it should be no surprise older people find it to be helpful with their aches and pains.
“We talk to a lot of people who just want a little more relaxation, but then quite a few people are using these products for pain and sleep,” he said. “I think also in some conversations with older folks, the feeling is maybe that they can treat pain or improve quality of life without the side effects of other medications.”
Jonas Duclos, the founder of CBD420, which manufactures and sells CBD-based products, told INSIDER that most people over 50 who contact him are looking for a solution to the general discomforts of getting older. Sometimes, it’s a last resort because traditional pharmaceuticals are causing them more harm than good, upsetting their stomach, damaging their liver, and causing other uncomfortable side effects for people with already sensitive systems.
“Cannabis and CBD work as a great anti-inflammatory for the organs as well — the stomach will be better, digestion will be better, all those things,” said Duclos. “And that creates a tremendous change for older people in pain.”
Leading US medical cannabis campaigner Dr Frank D’Ambrosio told INSIDER a review of his practice demographics revealed that 40% of his new patients are aged 50 and above, and cannabis has been incredibly effective for them.
“Older patients, who invariably suffer from age-related disease processes and thereby incur expensive pharmaceutical costs, see cannabis as a cost-effective way to decrease their needs for a host of medications,” he said.
“The biggest drawback that I have seen is not medically related. Years of disinformation propagated against this healing herb by the powers that be to the elder population has left them fearful to recognize cannabis as a medicine.”
Duclos said being able to bring more comfort to older people is a duty, and they shouldn’t be written off just because their body isn’t working quite as well as it did before.
“Honestly, if anything, I think it’s pretty amazing that we can help these people who have actually been working really hard their whole life, who when they retire, they can’t do things because they’re in pain all the time,” he said.
“We’re all going to get old. So taking care of those people is actually taking care of our future selves.”
A 70-year-old French CBD420 client who chose to go by the name Mrs. Y.P. told INSIDER she suffered with fibromyalgia, arthritis, and incontinence for 20 years before she decided to try the “CBD that everyone kept talking about.”
“Not only were the pains from fibromyalgia gone, but it also reduced the pain from arthritis,” she said. “To my surprise, it also fixed my bladder issues. I used to need 4-5 diapers a day, but now — none! It changed my life.”
Regulations are out-of-date and inconsistent
Meanwhile, Mr. T.P., who is 64 and also lives in France, has used cannabis to help with the spasms and pain caused by Parkinson’s disease. He wasn’t comfortable trying cannabis with high amounts of THC — the chemical that makes you high — from the black market, so instead started growing the plant himself.
“The police destroyed it and charged me,” he said. “Cannabis is very illegal here … The police are everywhere and they’re making a lot of arrests. I’m really afraid to be arrested again, but the pain and discomfort is too much, so I take the risk of treating myself with CBD.”
He added that it’s nearly impossible to find safe and reliable cannabis products in France. That’s where CBD420 comes in, because it allows people can order CBD oils and teas online.
In France, CBD420 products are legal under EU law, but they’re illegal under French law, so there’s a lot of confusion and inconsistency about what authorities rely on.
Duclos believes these unreliable and out-of-date laws and regulations are the biggest barrier stopping many people from accessing cannabis, because they lead to the spread of misinformation.
“For us, it’s extremely important that people know what they can expect from the plant, and that there are ways to use it very safely, and to raise awareness about the products themselves,” he said. “There’s still a lot to do in terms of quality and misinformation, and there’s no standards and controls, so it’s very difficult to navigate on the web.”
It’s hard to really know which companies are being fair and transparent about their products and which aren’t, he added. For instance, cannabis is legal in nine states in the US for recreational use, and in 31 others for medicinal use only. But making it legal doesn’t mean products will automatically be clean and high quality.
“For us in Switzerland we’ve found many companies who aren’t honest about what they’re working with,” Duclos said. “It’s important to bring that information out there, how to identify a product, how to ask the right questions.”
Someone in their 20s and 30s will probably have a better chance of rifling through all the information online to find the products they want, compared to someone who’s older and less tech-savvy.
Cannabis products don’t all deliver the same effects, and if someone buys an oil with very high THC content it could give them an intense high they might not enjoy. It may even scare them into never using any cannabis products again — even the ones without psychoactive effects.
“That’s why I spend hours on the phone with older people,” Duclos said. “For me it’s a pleasure to spend a lot of time explaining to those people what they’re working with. And it’s even more satisfying when two months later, they call and say it changed the way they perceive their future, because they’re going to be able to do more things.”
When people have a bad experience with cannabis, it fuels its negative image, and adds to social stigma. This can have a wide ripple effect, pushing interest underground and indirectly stifling scientific advancement.
Anecdotal stories vs data
Research has shown CBD’s medicinal effects. One small study suggested it could help with epilepsy, and a large review found it is effective in relieving chronic pain. There’s also some evidence that cannabis can reduce the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
But so far, many of the perceived wellness benefits of cannabis products are anecdotal, meaning the data isn’t there to back them up yet.
Duclos believes the taboo around drugs like cannabis means people are reluctant to come forward about their experiences, though it’s in the personal stories where the most interesting impact can be seen.
James Malaspino from Florida, for instance, was recommended cannabis for treating his symptoms after a massive right side hemorrhagic stroke. He told INSIDER it left him with limited control over parts of his left arm and leg, severe tremors, and “left neglect,” which is a lack of awareness of the left side of the body.
“The first time I tried CBD, I immediately felt like I had better sensation, improved control, and almost complete negation of the tremors,” he said. “The most incredible thing was that after a few months I started getting impulses to do things like use my left arm to close the microwave or slide it normally into a shirt sleeve instead of pulling the sleeve onto the left arm with my right hand.”
Malaspino is now in his 40s, but has never been particularly bothered by cannabis or those who used it, except for thinking “stoned people always seemed kinda stupid.” But since he found it to be such a helpful part of his recovery, he started recommending it to others, including his 74-year-old father who has been dealing with cancer on-and-off for about a decade.
But he quickly found there is still taboo, “especially in the older ‘Reefer Madness’ silent generation,” who grew up with an overly dramatic 1930s propaganda film about how marijuana could cause accidents, suicide, rape, murder, and a descent into madness.
“Multiple people were trying to get [my father] to try cannabis for his nausea, appetite, and so on without success,” Malaspino said. “It was not until I made him a bunch of CBD chocolates for Christmas that he was willing to even try it.”
His friend’s 90-year-old mother with brain cancer was also vehemently against trying CBD for her symptoms, for no other reason than that she saw drugs as illegal, and therefore wrong. But for people like Malaspino, with everything he’s learned about cannabis, it’s hard to imagine ever going back.
“The low THC strains are like magic for my stroke symptoms,” he said. “So far I’ve seen it help friends with PTSD, anxiety, arthritis, even someone who had a root canal told me that it was better than the Oxycontin they were prescribed.”
What does the science say?
According to Lewis from Remedy Review, the latest research has found that CBD empowers your endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate mood, appetite, pain, and other major physiological functions.
“Your body’s natural state is to be balanced — it’s not to be anxious, or to be in pain — and what CBD does is it gives you the ability to achieve that natural balance,” he said. “That’s what the science is telling us, it’s that CBD helps your body be its best self, if that makes sense, more so than actually treating a symptom.”
For example, research has shown how cannabis can be used as an anti-inflammatory with the potential to treat skin conditions like psoriasis. With psoriasis, the body over-reacts and creates too many skin cells, so CBD doesn’t exactly repair the patch of dry and irritated skin, but rather helps your body to regulate itself and work better, Lewis said.
A recent survey from Remedy Review found that 9% of 1,000 seniors asked had used CBD for health reasons. Out of these, over 65% said they had a good quality of life compared to just 31% who said the same before trying CBD.
Among the reasons listed for using CBD were inflammation, chronic pain, and poor sleep quality, but many seniors also use it for anxiety and depression.
“The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that nearly 18.1% of the US population over the age of 18 suffers from an anxiety disorder, and only 36.9% of those suffering choose to get treatment,” the report says. “It’s encouraging, then, that some seniors are attempting to self-heal with this type of nontraditional ‘treatment.'”
Buck, for example, tried many different antidepressants, but she said they caused weight gain and blunted emotions. By the time she started smoking again in 2010, medical cannabis was legal in her state, so she tried her hand at growing plants. She then became a medical caregiver, supplying up to five patients with her 0.3% THC content cannabis.
Buck was always open-minded about cannabis, and now uses it both socially and for her health. She said it’s just like when people enjoy cigars, craft beer, wine, or bourbon when they relax, without the attached stigma. But she is also aware not everyone sees it that way.
“The worry I have about what people will think is more regarding my professional life in real estate,” she said. “In my personal life I don’t shout it from the rooftops but I will be candid with people, especially if they have a negative attitude toward it with no experience with it.”
Cannabis could change someone’s future
If you want to guide the older people in your life towards trying cannabis for their wellness, Lewis said it’s best to start with organic products that have been tested recently, with a brand that is transparent about where the original plant came from. It’s also important to guide them through what different cannabinoids are meant to do.
“I think the first thing we have to tackle is trying to separate CBD and THC,” he said. “Marijuana will make you intoxicated, CBD will not. And even then I think we’re only starting to scratch the surface.”
He added a caution that substances work differently for everybody, and a dose for one person won’t necessarily be the equivalent dose for another.
“You have to start slow and work your way towards a dose that works for you,” he said. “If you take a gummy bear or capsule, your body has to digest that, so it may take a couple of hours for you to feel any effects, whereas an oil or a vape pen you might feel pretty quickly.”
In other words, if you don’t feel the effects, be patient and give it time to work.
If you’re recommending cannabis to someone who is on a lot of medication already, Lewis said you should also speak to a doctor beforehand about any possible drug interactions.
“I don’t want people to turn away from talking to healthcare professionals because they’re not up to speed on what everyone’s buying,” he said. “It seems the market and consumers are well ahead of the science which isn’t always a good thing.”
When someone does find a product that works for them, it can change their life. Duclos has even seen with his own parents.
“For three years my mother was on medical leave because of her hips and neck,” he said. “And thanks to CBD she’s not only back at work, but she’s gone skiing with my dad. To me, that’s mind-blowing.”
It can also just mean living life with a bit more enjoyment. Years of suffering from pain, loneliness, and isolation in their old age would make anyone bitter, Duclos said.
“It’s going to sound ridiculous, but cannabis is a great way to help people socialize,” Duclos said. “CBD helps against anxiety, helps against stress … It’s part of wellbeing and creates a better environment and better physical comfort. All those elderly people could have all that instead of suffering.”