Stay Golden: How CBD Is Impacting the Senior Community

Years ago, at the dawn of my CBD investigation career, I had the chance to interview Dr. Perry Solomon, MD, a board-certified anesthesiologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Solomon has since become a leading doctor in the cannabis space, pioneering incredible studies on the use of CBD for different ailments, helping to destigmatize the plant in the medical community, and helping patients get access to the plant-based medicine they need. 

Group of elderly people playing chess

So how did a Columbia-trained anesthesiologist become a Chief Medical Officer at HelloMD, a digital healthcare platform for the cannabis industry (he has since retired from that position), and a leader in the cannabis medicine arena? A retirement center. 

Dr. Solomon had been working with senior citizens at a center in the Bay Area and discovered that many residents were part of a cannabis club. Yes, seriously. “When we first spoke at a retirement community — about four years ago — they had their own cannabis club already,” said Dr. Solomon. “They would talk amongst themselves about what worked for them.”

Step aside, millennials! It looks like those older boomers are just as hip to the cannabis trend as we are. And that doesn’t mean your grandma has been secretly getting high (I mean maybe, who knows?), but she may be more interested in CBD than you thought.

It makes sense, though… right? According to Dr. Solomon, “perfect sense.” Pain and inflammation is par for the course with aging bodies, and the elderly population can experience just as much stress and mental hardship as any other demographic. So, turning to cannabis seems like a natural (in more ways than one) fit.

But at the time, Dr. Solomon’s group wasn’t tuned into the isolated compound. CBD wasn’t yet part of the picture — they were more so using a combination of CBD and THC. But there was a hesitancy among them; they didn’t want to get high, and sometimes they would stop using [a cannabis product] because of that.” 

He noticed firsthand how that particular age group — older Boomers and younger members of The Silent Generation — were averse to cannabis thanks to their past experience. “Their resistance is based on experience,” he explained. “That generation was exposed to what they called ‘pot’ in formulative, younger years — high school, college, twenties — and everyone [at that time used marijuana] to get high. So, they had a predetermined opinion of using it again; they may have had bad experiences, like they got too high, or experienced paranoia.” Combine this with government propaganda like the “This Is Your Brain on Drugs PR campaign,” he said, and you’ve got some tough-to-crack preconceived notions.

That’s where CBD came into the picture. “When they learned that there was no high, no psychoactivity… their eyes lit up,” he said. The doctors explained that “you’re not gonna get a buzzy feeling or get dizzy, you’ll just feel relaxed, and it’ll help you sleep, etcetera.” At that point, he noticed more interest than what already existed in the cannabis club. “Some people said, ‘Let me try it at least, as long as there’s no psychoactivity.’”

Things weren’t easy at first, particularly because the AARP (a nonprofit national organization for senior citizens) was staunchly anti-cannabis, according to Dr. Solomon. “When we first started [this work] years ago, the AARP essentially said, ‘No no no, it’s illegal, we can’t talk about it,” (which, granted, makes sense to play it safe when you’re a nonprofit). He said that he was shocked that AARP has finally put information out about CBD and medical marijuana on their site (as of September 2019). “The farm bill [has helped a lot], and legislation changed their tune. There has been pressure from more and more elderly people [on lawmakers].”  

Of course, a lot has been anecdotal on how CBD impacts the elderly. “They share stories [with each other] saying ‘This thing works for me, this thing works for that,” etcetera. They’re broadening their horizons.”  

What also helps them broaden their horizons (again, thanks to the farm bill) is the ease of access. Instead of having to go to a dispensary, which for many seniors is still heavily stigmatized and taboo, they can order CBD online. “You can get this stuff in the mail, shipped to your door,” said Dr. Solomon. “Generally there are no issues with people getting it, no matter where they want to [have it delivered]. CBD is more readily accessible to people.”

So, what are they using it for? The same things we are. Sleep, anxiety, stress, pain. But Dr. Solomon emphasized that “Most people find a combination of THC and CBD seems to work better; CBD alone, for a lot of people, just doesn’t do the trick for intense pain.” CBD on its own still has value, though. “As you get older there is more inflammation — Skin, joints, general inflammation, muscular aches, bruising, etc,” he said. In lieu of using NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) or heavy prescription medications, many seniors are turning to CBD. “NSAIDs can cause liver issues and ulcers, and older people have more propensity to get those,” said Dr. Solomon. “Using something that has less of that effect on the body will be more and more popular in the coming years.” 

A few tips for seniors taking CBD (the same goes for anyone taking CBD, actually):

  • “Use CBD under the care of a physician,” said Dr. Solomon. “This is not an ‘innocuous’ type of drug; it can interact with medication.” He described the “competitive inhibition of enzymes,” particularly if the patient is undergoing chemotherapy or taking anticoagulants. “Your doctor may want to test coagulation more frequently or change the dose of a chemo drug.”
  • “Be careful about where you’re getting your product, and whom you’re getting it from,” he said. Ensure you get the COA (certificate of analysis) to prove it’s a tested, high-quality product.
  • If your CBD is from hemp, “find out where the hemp is from.”
  • Don’t write it off right away if you don’t feel instant results. “You may have to take the product for several weeks to see an effect,” he explained. “It’s going to take different amounts of time for different people. It may take several days, or a week or two to see effect whatsoever.”
  • “Start low and go slow” — the golden slogan of CBD.

Written by Dominique Astorino

Wellness Expert and Svn Space Podcast Host and Contributing Editor Dominique holds bylines at POPSUGAR, Brit+Co, SHAPE, Svn Space and Huffington Post Wellness covering everything from health, fitness, and nutrition to crystals and CBD.

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