“Older adults are more open to exploring cannabis than ever. We have people coming through our doors that say they wouldn’t have done so even a year ago.”
Budtender and assistant manager, Cannabis Jacks
The fastest-growing demographic of cannabis consumers in Canada, adults over age 65 are hitting Authorized Cannabis Stores not just for recreation but also to explore the plant’s potential effects on day-to-day issues like sleep, mood and pain. Curious about how legal bud is different from the legacy cannabis of your youth? Budtenders from One Plant, Inspired Cannabis and Cannabis Jacks share insights on what to expect — and what to look for — when coming back to cannabis or trying it for the first time in your “senior” years.
How is today’s cannabis different from the old days?
Legal cannabis products undergo a level of standardization, quality assurance and testing that helps ensure your experience with a product is consistent and predictable. New products and formats, such as CBD-dominant edibles and beverages, mean consumers have lots of choice around potency and consumption method.
Dave DaDalt, a budtender and the assistant manager at Cannabis Jacks in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., points out that beyond the products, the perception is changing. “Seniors are talking about cannabis with us but also with each other,” he says. “Anecdotally, my 92-year-old aunt was staunchly anti-cannabis until she began exploring it to manage pain. She began using topicals and now advocates for the benefits of cannabis with her friends.”
Keep in mind, however, that cannabis products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are now much stronger than they were decades ago. According to U.S. research, on average, THC concentration in dried flower was about 3% in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Today, it averages between 15% and 30%. Concentrates and extracts consumed by inhalation can have up to 90% THC.
Budtender, Inspired Cannabis
“Yes, cannabis is psychoactive, but so are alcohol and caffeine. It isn’t normal or common for consumers of any age to experience psychedelic effects from cannabis products.”
What are some misconceptions about cannabis among older adults?
Common concerns from this demographic are around the scope and intensity of the effects of cannabis. However, Cameron Baker, a budtender at Inspired Cannabis in Kingston, Ont., makes the important distinction that consuming cannabis doesn’t have to be about getting high. There are many non-intoxicating options — for example, gummies that contain cannabinoids other than THC, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and CBG.
What THC and CBD potencies do you recommend for “senior” consumers?
The budtenders we spoke to agreed that if, like many older adults, you’re in the market for products that complement your day-to-day activities — many mention sleep and pain as their primary motivation for exploring cannabis — then CBD-dominant products may be a great option.
Unsure of what you’re looking for? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Budtenders are often asked for product education around the differences between THC and CBD, and can help you avoid products that will cause intoxication. They can also help you select products that fit your budget, if that’s a concern.
Which products are older adults excited to try?
Having grown up with smoking as the only real option for cannabis consumption, you may be curious to learn more about other formats, such as edibles and topicals. “In my experience, the most sought out products are topicals and oil, and then edible sweets, like cookies and chocolates,” DaDalt says. “Some people prefer edibles because they’re easy to measure and dose.” He reflects that topicals are both new and familiar to older adults. “You’re likely already incorporating an over-the-counter muscle rub into your routine, and it might not have occurred to you that you could swap in a topical cannabis product.”
All the budtenders we spoke to also noticed a curiosity among older customers about infused beverages, including those that focus on CBD and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids. Zoe Amo, budtender at One Plant in Ottawa, notes that her store, which is located under a retirement residence, sees an uptick in people shopping for products to replace alcoholic drinks in the early evening — a far cry from the discretion and secrecy of legacy market days.
If you’re curious to see how cannabis has evolved over the years, there are lots of products, formats and potencies to choose from.
Budtender, One Plant
“Your body and brain have changed over time, and so has cannabis. It’s okay if you don’t feel anything the first time, and that’s a better experience than overdoing it.”
Any recommendations for older adults trying cannabis for the first time or after a long hiatus?
All the budtenders we spoke to echo the time-tested motto for approaching new products: Start low and go slow. This is especially true with edibles and oils that may take longer to produce an effect and have a longer duration. (Also keep an eye out for products made with a nanoemulsion, which produce effects quickly, possibly within 10 minutes.) Making sure you’re hydrated, well-fed and rested before consuming cannabis may also improve your experience.
How could “seniors” could prepare for their first store visit?
When you go to an Authorized Cannabis Store for the first time, you can expect questions from your budtender about your preferences and history with cannabis. Unsure of what you’re looking for? See if the store has a website where you can browse products and research ahead of your in-person visit.
Amo stresses, however, that recreational cannabis stores are not the place to go for medical advice. “We sell products for recreational use, and that’s where our expertise is,” she says. “We can only make recommendations based on what you tell us.”
Are there safety precautions older adults to consider?
The setting, your schedule and the company you keep are all important aspects of your experience, especially when you’re trying something new. The budtenders recommend having people around that you know and trust, exploring cannabis in a familiar setting and doing so on a day when your schedule is pretty light.
According to Health Canada, adults over age 55 may feel the effects of cannabis more strongly because the body’s ability to process substances changes as we age, among other reasons. DaDalt recommends checking in with your pharmacist or doctor to learn about any potential interactions between your prescribed medications and cannabis products, as well as any medical conditions that may increase your risk for serious side effects, such as liver, kidney and heart disease.
In the longer term, make sure you’re aware of the risks of inhalation and other consumption methods on your respiratory system and overall health.
One final bit of advice? “Don’t be afraid to experiment and have some fun with it,” adds Amo. “There are so many options, and we’re here to help. It’s literally our job to answer questions, so let’s chat!”