This story originally aired in August of 2016.
Kelly Quirke, community engagement coordinator for Harborside Health Center, a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, finds it ironic that so many people he deals with in their 60s and 70s are adamant about not getting high on cannabis.
After all, he says, “These are the people who started smoking it as a large demographic group in the United States.”
Harborside is one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in the country. And despite reluctance from many elderly patients, people age 55 and up are a fast-growing component of customers in this field.
There was less known about cannabis (medical dispensaries uniformly prefer this term over marijuana) 50 years ago than there is today. Growers and consumers have traditionally valued a compound in the plant known as THC.
As Quirke tells a tour from the Rossmoor senior community near Walnut Creek, “That’s the one that makes you high. The second most prevalent in the plant is CBD — cannabidiol. That’s the non-psychoactive one that has a lot of healing properties.”
Harborside conducts educational tours and classes for older people focusing on those healing properties. Some are not initially open to the idea. When Wendy Robertson, a participant in today’s tour, first heard about the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Education & Support Club, her reaction was less than kind.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh you guys are just a bunch of potheads, belonging to this group.’”
She now says, “It’s nothing of the sort. How judgmental, and how critical is that of me, when I don’t even know what’s going on? There’s a medical component to this.”
Robertson discovered the benefits of medical cannabis first-hand, or more accurately “first-back,” on a road trip with her husband in Washington State. They saw a cannabis dispensary and decided to pop in to see what it was like.
“Usually that’s when your back gets messed up, sitting in the car eight hours a day,” she says. So she decided to buy a vial of cannabis extract oil that was recommended by a “budtender” at the store.
“I was a little nervous,” she admits. “So I rubbed some on my lower back. And I think it was maybe 15 - 20 minutes [later] — it was a noticeable improvement. I could tell that my back was feeling better. And I remember thinking, ‘God, this is so wild’.”
Not wild because she was getting high — that wasn’t happening. It was wild because it was working so well.
According to the online Marijuana Business Daily, the majority of medical cannabis patients report using it for pain relief, ranging from arthritis to migraines. CBD oil has received widespread attention as a successful treatment for childhood epilepsy.
Harborside's Quirke says he finds that though seniors are “the people who can use these medicines more than almost any other demographic of the population, [they] don’t know very much about it.”
And what they do know is negative — an attitude groups like The Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Education & Support Club and Harborside Health Center’s free monthly senior support group are working to change.