Can it really be true that so many older people nowadays will "Just Say Yes"? Yes to using marijuana, that is? Our Cover Story is reported by Barry Petersen:
Sue Taylor works hard to stay fit, and stay healthy. This 68-year-old is a regular at the gym, eats kale to keep her cholesterol down, and at home, "homemade" is her motto.
But there's one thing in her healthy lifestyle that may come as a surprise: she includes MARIJUANA in her quest to stay youthful.
She showed Petersen her Gummi Cares: "It has the consistency of a gummi, and I use it for sleep and pain when I need to."
Taylor was a high school principal, preaching the dangers of drugs. But after her son got into the pot business, and as she began to learn more about marijuana, she changed her mind. Now she is a convert -- make that an ADVOCATE -- for aging Americans using marijuana.
She speaks at community meetings, explaining why pot may be good for them.
And she's got statistics on her side. Polling confirms that more and more Americans age 55 and up are using more and more marijuana.
One reason is geography: almost half of Americans live in a place where marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes.
- Marijuana use and support for legal marijuana continue to climb (04/20/16)
- Marijuana use doubles among U.S. adults (10/21/15)
- Do medical marijuana laws increase teen pot smoking? (06/16/15)
- Seniors sway medical marijuana debate in Florida (11/03/14)
Sue (who's known as "the Weed Lady") lives in California, one of the states where medical marijuana requires only a doctor's prescription.
So what are the kinds of things marijuana helps if you're a senior? "Number one is arthritis," Taylor said. "There are tinctures and rubs that you could actually put on your legs, on your knees, across your back, wherever you're having any arthritic pain. Most seniors use the cannabis for pain and to sleep."
Dr. Igor Grant, a distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, is frustrated that there isn't more money for research. "But I so think we are turning a corner on that," he said.
Dr. Grant is the recipient of one of the rare federal grants allowing him to research the potential benefits of pot.
"First of all, there is increasing evidence that cannabis is helpful in the management of certain kinds of pain," he said. And it's the kind of discomfort experienced by seniors, like sharp pains felt by nerve damage, caused by things like chemotherapy or diabetes.
Keep in mind, Americans over-65 only account for 14 percent of the nation's population, but they use more than 30 percent of all prescription drugs, including some highly-addictive painkillers. "An interesting question is, if people are prescribed cannabis, does that have then an opioid-sparing effect?" Dr. Grant said. "Because again, for chronic pain we do use opioids -- Vicodin and drugs like this."
So cannabis could replace opioid use? "Right, or lessen the requirement. We need studies to understand that. But I think the preliminary evidence suggests that may be true."
Kerry Stiles, 78, wears a pacemaker. And he discovered pot at the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek, across the bay from San Francisco. "I drop it under my tongue, about five or six drops, and that helps me sleep," Stiles said.
Here, there are clubs for everything from swimming to cars. And now there's a club for medical marijuana use.
In this retirement community of more than 9,000, the club has about a hundred regulars.
Renee Lee is its president, and a kind of pot guidance counselor.
"We caution, especially the seniors, to stay away from edibles, and really start slow," Lee said. "We start with low dosage, we start in the early evening, telling them not to drive, not to mix alcohol. There's a lot of cautions, a lot of education that goes along with it."
But for some in the over-65 crowd, lingering stereotypes -- and stigmas from another time -- are hard to overcome.
Petersen asked, "Why do you think seniors are resistant to this, as opposed to twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, who don't seem to pay any attention to the stigma at all?"
"Probably the 1960s!" laughed Stiles.
Our nation's pot paranoia actually dates to the 1930s. (Remember "Reefer Madness"?) Then, during the Nixon Administration, the federal government classified it as a so-called "Schedule One" drug -- the category that includes heroin and cocaine.
"It was publicity by the federal government and by state governments [about] how terrible it was, and what it could do to you," Kerry said.