Golden, and Greener, Years: Baby Boomers Likely to be Prime Marijuana Consumers

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Susan Newman is the future of the cannabis industry.

Newman, 65, is part of a population of Americans ages 55 and older that comprises the largest growth segment for marijuana businesses.

There’s no shortage of anecdotal evidence and hard data to back that.

“I see more people at the cannabis shops my age than ever,” said Newman, a retiree who spends part of the year residing in Washington, where the state allows adult recreational cannabis use.

May is being celebrated by the Administration on Aging, part of the Administration for Community Living, as Older Americans Month. The 2018 theme, Engage at Every Age, emphasizes that people are never too old to take part in activities to enrich their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Newman, like many in her generation, uses marijuana for all of the above.

She has another residence in Maui, where she and her 71-year-old husband, Carl, spend their days golfing, playing mah-jongg, entertaining and walking around a lot.

“It helps with my pain,” Newman said of her cannabis use. “I am kind of in pain 90 percent of the time.”

Newman, who typically vapes cannabis and sometimes takes it in pill form, uses marijuana to relieve pain from arthritis in her hands, neck, and back, as well as a degenerative disc disease. She said it also helps keep her active.

She does Pilates twice a week, takes extensive walks at least three times a week, and swims about twice a week.

Older Americans seek wellness benefits of cannabis

Susan Newman, 65, is part of a population of Americans age 55 and older that comprises the largest growth segment for marijuana businesses. She and 71-year-old husband, Carl, spend their days golfing, playing mahjong, entertaining and walking around a lot.

All of this is possible, she said, because cannabis dulls the pain, and improves her mind-set by keeping her from dwelling on the discomfort.

“It helps me get my mind off of it,” she said.

It’s these type of health and wellness benefits that are driving older Americans to use cannabis, according to Linda Gilbert, managing director of consumer insight for BDS Analytics.

“What we’re seeing in the data is that older adults are being faced with a lot of decisions regarding the use of OTC and pharmacy type products that have very concerning side effects,” Gilbert said.

Many older people face anxiety, chronic pain, diabetes, loss of appetite – all medical problems with symptoms that have been known to be relieved through cannabis consumption – and they are hearing about the benefits of marijuana from other seniors, relatives, and in the media, Gilbert added.

Of further interest to this group is reducing the inconvenient — and sometimes scary — side effects that come with other pain medications, such as losing one’s balance and falling, or constipation.

“We see a high degree of receptivity because they don’t want to take Ambien and oxycontin and all of the traditional things that have been prescribed,” Gilbert said.

Seniors remain a fast-growing consumer demographic

According to the 2018 BDS Analytics trend study, Public Attitudes and Actions Toward Cannabis in the US, 12 percent of adults ages 50 and older living in states where medical or recreational cannabis use is legal say they have used cannabis in some form in the past six months.

The study shows that 19 percent said their reasons for cannabis use is to relieve pain, while 16 percent said they use marijuana to relax.

This age group is also a big consumer of Edibles, Gilbert has found in her research.

The reason for this is simple. Many older people are coming into cannabis use for better health and wellness, so using an inhalable isn’t really seen as being aligned to that goal.

“They tend to be more oriented to edibles and topicals,” Gilbert said. “They’re not looking to get high, they’re looking to relieve pain, deal with anxiety and sleep better.”

An American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse study released last year, “Older adults’ marijuana use, injuries, and emergency department visits,” shows how much marijuana use overall is being bolstered by older adults.

The study is a compilation of myriad scientific and academic studies, as well as polling. It cites a Gallup poll that shows that 29 percent of respondents ages 55 and older supported legalizing cannabis in 2003 and 2005, but by 2016 the figure had risen to 45 percent.

Baby boomers are changing the tide

The study also shows that baby boomers are among the biggest reasons for the increasing cannabis use rate among older adults. Aging baby boomers have had greater exposure to marijuana, and often sport more permissive attitudes toward recreational use than prior generations, according to the study.

Baby boomers who use cannabis claim they do so for symptom relief from things like chronic pain, anxiety, and other health or mental health conditions, as well as relaxation, stress reduction, social and recreational reasons, and enhancement or expansion, according to the study.

Newman fits the baby boomer mold well. She and Carl have been married 40 years. They have two children, ages 33 and 34, and retired about seven years ago. During her life, Newman was mostly a full-time mother, but found work off and on, including a stint as a fashion coordinator — a dream she gave up on when she had her children. Carl held down a suit-and-tie job in the insurance industry, writing surety bonds for contractors.

Newman, who said she prefers Sativa strains over Indica because Sativa doesn’t make her so sleepy, has been looking around Washington during the months she’s there for medical cannabis that’s lower in THC.

“I don’t want to smoke it too much,” she said. “I don’t want to be stoned all of the time.”

She grew up in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle, raised by upper-class parents during the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” culture movement of the 1960s, and first smoked marijuana when she was roughly 15, “because it was the ’60s, and I wanted to know what it was like.”

She liked it, and has used marijuana off and on ever since.

Her parents didn’t like their daughter lighting up, and spent most of their lives not understanding Newman’s interest in it.

“They were not pleased at all,” she said. “They did not get it until my mother passed away last fall, until she realized ‘Oh, the stuff can help.’”

Her mother tried cannabis later in life, a few pills, Newman said, to help with the pain of pancreatic cancer. She was 91 when she died.

“She would have lived to 100 if that goddamned cancer hadn’t gotten to her,” Newman said.

About Author

Don Jergler is the Regional West Editor for Insurance Journal and a veteran business and real estate reporter. He has contributed coverage for the Long Beach Press Telegram, Long Beach Register, Los Angeles Times Custom Publishing and a variety of trade publications.

16 Comments

  1. I too am a senior and use medical cannabis for depression, anxiety and joint pain and to relax, let the stress phase out. It does the job very well!!

    • Jere Cannata on

      I to am a senior who chooses to use Cannabis,
      I to had surgery and suffered from chronic pain, nausea, anxiety and sleeplessness, I also used opiates for these conditions, for 10 yrs,
      I was feeling very confused, disoriented and tired all the time, and my pain was still not controlled, my stomach was not liking the opiates either.
      I started using cannabis in place of the opiates.
      As of January 2018, I am completely free of opiate addiction, all of my pain, anxiety, sleeplessness are all in control, my use of cannabis has invigorated my lifestyle, I get out and do more with my grandchildren and play harder, my simple aches and pains from arthritis have also felt relief, I feel younger and more in tune with younger cannabis users, not just other seniors, CBD is a great life enhancer without the thc effects, I love the morning sativa with coffee, or a dank indica for bed, edibles for desert, etc.
      Cannabis is the answer for Seniors, all your medicinal and wellness, concerned will melt away.

  2. Johnny Sierras on

    I also use as a means to control pain from broken back and degenerative disc disease. After too many years on drugs that created who knows what other damage to my body. Vaping and smoking has offered a chance to be pain free and lucid. I believe that the benefits outweigh the use of chemical relieve and offer a more natural response to my problem. I agree wholeheartedly with my fellow seniors. I have informed my doctors that I have found a combination that helps me. To all seniors who are weary of trying this opportunity, a comfortable life is something we have earned in our golden years. Respectfully, a chance to be pain free naturally is a better way to live…

  3. MICHAEL SMITH on

    I tend to disagree with the claim that CBD works well, and releaves pain, helps sleep.. it absolutely helped in no way, except releaving me of much money.. a hoax of the times.. but with the natural plant, left in original form, consumed, straight way relieved much of the symptoms of old age, pain, anxieties of on set
    Age related physical burdens.. I did smoke it in past.. so had an idea that it would help.. but my problem with this is, as a Christian, and our LORD FATHER wants all to obey civil law.. it being against the laws of federal statutes, brings in an altogether different concept.. As I will never allow myself to willingly go against our LORDS words.. till it is legal, and not law breaking agenda, I wil leave it alone.. but! When it is made fed, friendly, I recommend it whole heartedly.. in moderation of course.. PEACE AND GRACE and mercy of LORD..

    • Hello…. your Lord Father included the cannabis plant during creation. Here, I’ll show you. It’s easy to understand.

      Day 3 of God’s Creation…

      “And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.” -Genesis 1: 9-13

    • Michael Smith – what a smarmy, arrogant, silly take you have. CBD works great for most and probably would have for you if you gave it enough time. In some forms, it’s been shown to reduce carcinogens and your body’s inflammation. A hoax? Please. You just weren’t patient enough and expected immediate results.

      As for invoking the Lord’s stance on cannabis? Just stop. You’ve broken many civil laws too, including jaywalking and rolling through a stop sign. Is it your insane opinion that this miracle plant, which treats dozens of ailments, should be illegal? If you are indeed religious, you should understand the plant is a gift from above, even in its unaltered form. Look at it from a scientific view, not from some fear-based opinion of the DEA. Do your research and find out why it was made illegal in the first place. Total sham.

    • Michael, with all due respect, and speaking as a fellow Christian, we’ll have to agree to disagree. There are man’s laws and there are God’s laws. Man has written many statutes over the millennia. Some laws have been just, some trifling, some, no matter how good the original intent, have caused horrendous consequences. Many laws are based on religious values, others on far less noble grounds. Ultimately God gave us free will, so we ALL choose the laws by which we abide. In this case I will side with God providing a natural remedy for our ailments. Man is NOT the ultimate authority. On that I’d hope that we agree. Many blessings.

    • You’re another brainwashed sadster. Oh, Mr. government, I’ll go along with anything you say! As your privacy and “freedoms” are slowly, carefully whittled away. cops becoming more militaristic Open your eyes and develop a mind of your own.

  4. I think what they’re saying is we no longer have to burn incense and gargle with Binaca. And for every baby boomer who medicates with weed, at least on the state level, we can now legally treat our symptoms with a plant, wake up feeling great the next day, and avoid the despair of opioid addiction. Hooray for progress!

    • Very well said. Lord knows nobody needs a pain pill that leaves them going to the methadone clinic

  5. I have heard, as well as experienced, that CBD has less effect on high tolerance individuals so I’m not surprised when someone makes a claim of that nature. We are all different in our own special ways – exactly how God created us. Whatever works best to address the needs of each person, I’m confident,, was God’s purpose when he provided the abundant variety in all of his creations including cannabis.

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