The new grey market: As older users warm up to cannabis, pot companies want to learn more
'They were really curious about the plant. They wanted to know what weed was all about, and how it could maybe help them through their ailments …'
Last summer, a few months before Canada legalized cannabis for recreational use, Canopy Growth Corp. bused a group of seniors from a nearby nursing home to its facility in Smiths Falls, Ont.
The idea, according to Canopy CEO Bruce Linton, was to let them observe how cannabis is grown and learn about the plant’s medical uses.
“They were really curious about the plant. They wanted to know what we were doing over here, what weed was all about, and how it could maybe help them through their ailments,” Linton said.
The interest, it turns out, was mutual. In early October, Canopy announced a six-month study tracking and monitoring the effects of medical cannabis as an alternative to other pain therapies. The licensed producer partnered with the Ontario Long Term Care Association for the project, which involves 500 seniors in a number of OLTCA facilities across the province.
“We’re in the medical marijuana business, after all. It’s important for us to make sure that we’re doing the best for our patients — seniors are a big part of that,” Linton said.
While Canadian cannabis companies have been scrambling to attract younger adult customers in the months since legalization, the Canopy study and others like it point to the potential of another growing demographic — seniors — whose use of cannabis skews toward but is not limited to medical uses.
That potential is borne out by statistics from south of the border: In Oregon, Colorado, Washington State, Nevada and California, seniors make up 25 per cent of the overall number of cannabis consumers, according to data from the cannabis research firm The Brightfield Group.
“There’s this category of seniors of the baby boomer demographic who used to consume cannabis in their youth, gave it a rest in their professional life, and are now getting more curious about it for medical reasons,” Bethany Gomez, Brightfield’s director of research, told the Financial Post.
In Canada, the data on the number of people aged over 60 who consume cannabis either for medical or recreational purposes remains limited. But those who have been involved in the industry for years suggest that seniors represent a growing segment of the market.
Whenever a U.S. state or a country legalizes marijuana, populations over 60 are always the ones that are doing the most research on the plant
Brendan Kennedy, CEO, Tilray
“Whenever a U.S. state or a country legalizes marijuana, populations over 60 are always the ones that are doing the most research on the plant,” said Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Nanaimo-based licensed producer Tilray Inc. “I can tell you that especially recently, it’s been a growing portion of our patient base in Canada.”
Kennedy said that the idea of cannabis as a medicine for chronic health issues and not simply a party drug is becoming more mainstream, and that that is helping to increase the comfort level among the older generation.
Kennedy strongly believes in the medical benefits of cannabis for seniors — so much so that his company is funding a six-month study, led by cannabis medical professional Dr. Blake Pearson, to research the effect medical marijuana has on sleep, the perception of pain and the overall quality of life in patients over 50.
“It’s encouraging to me that licensed producers want to partake in cannabis research, because it’s hard for funding to come by. I can see that it will benefit them in the long run, but it also just provides more alternatives for physicians treating seniors,” said Pearson, over the phone from his clinic in Sarnia, Ont.
Diana Cocozolli, one of Pearson’s patients, said she has suffered from fibromyalgia — a long-term chronic pain condition — for more than a decade. Over the past four years, her go-to solutions have been an array of pharmaceutical painkillers such as gabapentin, a popular anti-inflammatory drug used to treat neuropathic disorders including pain; and oxycocets, a cross between the opioid oxycodone and acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol.
Cocozolli admits she had an opioid problem — at her worst, the 57-year-old from Sarnia, Ont., was consuming between 25 and 30 pills of oxycocets a day, on top of at least three doses of gabapentin (which is, incidentally, showing up in a growing number of overdose cases, according to a number of studies.)
I got a prescription and started trying cannabis oils, and honestly, within eight months, I was off all the painkillers.
Diana Cocozolli, medical marijuana consumer
“My memory started failing me. One day, I went to work, I fell down, and I just couldn’t get up. I was so disoriented,” said Cocozolli, who is a social care worker.
A number of friends in her neighbourhood, who also suffered from pain disorders and arthritis pointed her towards cannabis as a substitute.
“It wasn’t legal recreationally yet, so I still felt a bit uncomfortable trying it. But then I got a prescription and started trying cannabis oils, and honestly, within eight months, I was off all the painkillers,” Cocozolli said.
As for the extent to which seniors will begin to rely on medical cannabis for chronic illnesses, Pearson cautions that every individual reacts to cannabis differently. “We’re not at the stage yet to say that it will work on every senior with pain issues. But I think if it does, it’s a very logical treatment option for seniors.”
Cannabis companies hoping to expand the medical market will have to overcome the conservatism towards cannabis amongst medical associations — both the Ontario Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association support the dismantling of the medical cannabis regime altogether, arguing that with legalization, there remains no need for medical professionals to serve a “gatekeeper role.”
This kind of opposition, said Pearson, is what makes is so difficult to obtain funding to really understand how cannabis can improve the lives of seniors. “I treat seniors in a long-term care setting and I’m weaning down their use of anti-psychotics and opioids. To just say leave it up to themselves, that means you’re saying they should self-medicate, which is absurd.”
Original Article by Financial Report