Do you know who the largest growing group of cannabis consumers are? You might be surprised.
Cannabis consumers come in all shapes and sizes, demographics, and geographies. Certainly in an adult-use market, there are even greater numbers of buyer types. But for the cannabis industry as a whole, the largest growing number of users are seniors.
In February of this year, a JAMA study was posted indicating that the number of Americans ages 65 and up who smoke marijuana or take edibles spiked 75% in just three years. The survey didn’t ask subjects why they used cannabis products, however, so lead author Dr. Benjamin Han, assistant professor of geriatric medicine and palliative care at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, couldn’t definitely explain why these specific groups of people reported higher rates of marijuana use.
“Certainly the passing of medical marijuana laws in many states for a variety of qualifying conditions and diseases has played a role, and gotten the attention of older adults who are living with chronic diseases or symptoms that are difficult to treat,” Han told MarketWatch. “Also we have a large baby boomer cohort who has more experience with cannabis compared to generations before them now entering their 60s and 70s.”
The new analysis also didn’t ask seniors whether they had conditions like arthritis, Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain. However, using cannabis products for pain management is one reason why many seniors might consider trying weed, especially since a 2019 Health Affairs report found that 65% of people who use medical marijuana in the U.S. use it to treat chronic pain. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine also reported evidence that cannabis and/or cannabinoids could help with conditions like pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms.
With the current state of our healthcare system and Medicare regulations changing repeatedly, it’s not surprising that seniors who take expensive or habit-forming, as well as potentially ineffective prescription medications, could be driving some of the considerations for seniors to turn to medical marijuana.
The study Han oversaw isn’t the only press the senior usage is receiving, and the cannabis industry is taking note of the jump in this group’s consumption.
Senior publication, The Gerontologist also published a senior-focused study. This one found that, of the seniors who used cannabis medicinally, a majority said they used it for a variety of conditions. The most common reason was to treat arthritis and back pain, followed by anxiety and depression. While this study is full of facts and figures that interested readers can delve into at greater length – the outcome is clear – not only are seniors showing a growing interest in using the plant for medicine, but the social stigmas of their younger days seem to be perceived as becoming irrelevant to them.
For those catering to the marijuana retail consumer, this is an important group to think about – as many of them prefer to consume medicine in the form of edibles or the use of tinctures or topicals, citing the ability to dose consistently as the primary driver for these preferences.
Not only are seniors taking a large part of the market in dispensaries, but given the proclivity of the over 65 age-group to attend numerous social events and participate in group activities, they are using those occasions to compare notes on products and learn more about what’s available. In fact, Bud and Bloom, a dispensary in California, hosts events specific to these consumers.
A gaggle of white-haired folks — some pushing walkers, others using canes — gather at the entry to their upscale senior living community to board a bus for a quick trip to a building that resembles a trendy coffee bar. The people, mostly in their 70s and 80s, pass the next several hours enjoying a light lunch, playing a few games of bingo and selecting their next month’s supply of cannabis-infused products.
“It’s like the ultimate senior experience,” laughs 76-year-old retired beauty products distributor Ron Atkin as he sits down to watch the bingo at the back of the Bud and Bloom dispensary location in Santa Ana.
At Bud and Bloom, winners of the bingo games take home new vape pens, but Atkin isn’t really there for that. He’s been coming regularly for two years to buy cannabis-infused chocolate bars and sublingual drops to treat his painful spinal stenosis since the prescription opiates he had been taking quit working. It was “desperation” that brought him here, he said, adding that his doctors didn’t suggest he try medical marijuana. But they didn’t discourage him either.
In Missouri, this trend is one to watch and strategize carefully for license holders – like those over 60 years old in our state comprised about 22% ownership of approved MMJ patient cards in 2019. For those operating dispensaries in the Show-Me State, this will be a critical group of consumers.