Comstock's magazine 0419 - April 2019 - Page 60

n CANNABIS A s Rob Read hatched plans to open a marijuana dispen- sary in downtown Davis last year, a certain customer demographic remained top of mind. Read knew that Americans age 55 and older make up one of the fastest-growing customer bases for the booming legal cannabis industry. And, as a former executive of a local assisted living facility, he was well aware of the potential benefits of cannabis for seniors in particular. So in designing F Street Dispensary, Read and his business partner filled the shop with natural stone countertops, vases of fresh flowers and bright, natural light. Two enthusiastic retir- ees were among their early staff hires. “We wanted [the] ambiance to be senior-welcoming,” he says. “If we can make the seniors feel comfortable, everyone else should feel comfortable too.” F Street Dispensary isn’t alone in looking for fresh ways to cater to older cannabis users. From senior discounts to Weed 101 workshops, dispensaries, delivery services and assisted liv- ing facilities in the Capital Region are navigating business and policy implications of the spike in interest among this group. “They are our No. 1 demographic,” says Kimberly Car- gile, executive director of the East Sacramento dispensary A Therapeutic Alternative. “Since cannabis was approved for adult use, we’ve seen a large increase in the senior population coming here.” THE RISE IN OLDER USERS When it comes to your typical pot users, golf-loving retirees and grandparents shuffling to their daily bridge game probably aren’t the first images that come to mind. Younger Americans make up the lion’s share of legal marijuana consumers. But as more states move toward partial or full legalization, data shows a spike in older users, too. The percentage of adults 50-64 who report using marijuana doubled between 2007 and 2016, according to an analysis by researchers at New York Uni- versity. Seven times as many adults 65 and older reported using cannabis over the same time frame. Experts say much of that growth is people returning to the substance post-legalization; a majority of older adults who report using cannabis today first tried it when they were 21 or younger. “We’re now in a new era of changing attitudes around mar- ijuana, and as stigma declines and access improves, it appears that baby boomers — many of whom have prior experience smoking marijuana — are increasingly using it,” Dr. Benjamin Han, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Health and a lead author of the study, said when the paper was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence last fall. But for seniors in particular, there are other factors driving the trends, according to industry and scholarly experts. Many are turning to cannabis to help treat illness and age-related ail- 60 | April 2019 ments. Research has shown Medicare reimbursement requests for prescription drugs falling in states where marijuana is legal. Some doctors and advocates argue that cannabis is a saf- er alternative to prescription pain medication. One 2017 study authored by researchers from UC Berkeley, and Kent State University found that patients who had used opioids to treat chronic pain “overwhelmingly reported that cannabis provid- ed relief on par with their other medications, but without the unwanted side effects.” Ninety-seven percent reported that they were able to decrease the amount of opioids they took thanks to cannabis. Statistics like that don’t surprise Cargile, of A Therapeu- tic Alternative. She says most of her senior patients come to her looking for treatment of one or more symptoms, includ- ing chronic pain. “The stigma is being reduced, and people are looking for nontoxic alternatives for the pharmaceuticals they’re being prescribed,” she says. Those needs are reflected in sales by local dispensaries. Cargile’s most popular items offer topical application to allow for targeted application on certain joints or muscles. Read says while he certainly encounters older customers looking for the psychoactive effects typically associated with marijuana use, many want sleep or pain relief. Creams and tinctures are espe- cially popular at his business too. Papa and Barkley, a producer of primarily cannabis balms and oils that distributes in the Sacramento area, has seen similar trends. Top selling products for older customers are Releaf Balm and a CBD-rich Releaf Tincture. Drew Hyland, se- nior marketing manager for the brand, says seniors are “eager to learn more about cannabis for health and wellness,” most commonly “to manage their daily aches and pains, and im- prove their sleep.” Hyland says he finds these customers are “generally looking to avoid psychoactivity.” “Anecdotally, this demographic is looking for natural solu- tions to improve their daily lives,” he says. CONTINUING (CANNABIS) EDUCATION Weed, of course, has changed a lot since many boomers and seniors first encountered the drug back in the 1960s and ’70s. There are myriad strains available for purchase, many of which are stronger than in years past. Choices for how to consume go beyond the bongs and joints of their youth, including smoke- free options like edibles, capsules and lotions. Products made with cannabidiol, also known as CBD, are growing in populari- ty for people who want some of the soothing effects of cannabis without getting high. All the change can be overwhelming, especially for older consumers. “There’s just a ton of enthusiasm and a ton of curi- osity, but they have a lot of apprehensions,” Jeffrey Westman, a Sebastopol-based cannabis consultant who works with senior communities across Northern California, says. Today’s mari-