When cannabis is legalized across Canada on Oct. 17, who will be lighting up?
Dr. Richard Stanwick of Island Health said they expect many first-timers to try pot, but especially senior citizens and baby boomers.
“For people who have been avoiding it — baby boomers because it was an illegal product and they may have tried it and used it in their university days in the ’70s and are remembering Woodstock — the product of today is quite different,” Stanwick said.
He said he’s seen cannabis marketed as “the cure for old age, which you can see would be quite appealing to a lot of people.” But since it’s been illegal for so long, the short-term and long-term risks and benefits of marijuana are still unknown.
While doctors are worried about young people using cannabis because their brains are still developing, there are different concerns for seniors.
“Our biggest concerns among seniors is falls,” he said, because of the potential impact on cognitive and mobility responses. “The last thing we want is more seniors with broken hips … We know our health care costs are going to go up and there’s going to be an increased demand for service because of the legalization.”
They also expect an increase in motorvehicle incidents, developing dependence and mental health effects.
So what does the doctor recommend? Start by reviewing Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines. Its first suggestion is to abstain, but if you’re going to use cannabis, start with a low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
While recreational users may be seeking out the psychoactive effects from the THC, many are advocating the potential pain-management abilities of cannabidiol (CBD). Balancing the two will take experimentation, Stanwick said.
“Just think if you were trying alcohol for the first time, would you go with the heaviest drink possible or would you perhaps try a beer or glass of wine to see how this is going to affect you? They’re both psychoactive substances.”
One of the main recommendations Stanwick shared is not to inhale or smoke cannabis, but to use edibles or liquid-based products instead. The major concern with edibles is, unlike smoking or vaping cannabis, there is a delayed reaction.
“It’s really important to mix the marijuana in well. Basically, give it enough time to see if it works. We do metabolize it differently,” he said. “In a given room, one person might be feeling the effects in 20 minutes, somebody will not be feeling anything for 40 or 50 minutes or even an hour. The temptation for the second person who’s a slow absorber would be to have a second and maybe a third. All of a sudden it all kicks in.”
They’ve already seen several cases of people coming to the emergency room because of ingesting too much marijuana — or accidentally having any at all.
Medications seniors commonly take, Stanwick said, are unlikely to be affected when taken with marijuana because the pathway where marijuana reacts in the brain is in a different part than most anti-depressants or other medications do. Stanwick said he thinks labels similar to ‘do not take with alcohol’ stickers on medicine will start appearing for marijuana as well. It’s important to speak with your doctor or pharmacist either way, and be honest about what you’re taking, Stanwick said.
“If you have a family history of psychosis, there is the possibility that the marijuana may unmask one that was previously unidentified. It’s not totally benign, so our psychiatry unit is concerned. At the end of the day, the THC is still a psychoactive substance and the rate of becoming potentially dependent or addicted to marijuana in adults is still 10 per cent.”
The upside of legalization, Stanwick said, is the opportunity for people to become more informed and make better decisions when it comes to using marijuana.
“Everyone is different, so find out how your body and you react to that substance, how long does it take and how big is the buzz.”