Seniors are the new face of marijuana use in the US

By Alejandra Arredondo

Washington, Aug 17 (EFE).- Among brightly colored pipes, young people with tattooed arms and large posters with images of marijuana leaves, 73-year-old Willie Marby is at the Takoma Wellness Center, the first cannabis dispensary in the United States capital, to pick up his prescription for THC.

His orthopedist recommended THC, the major psychoactive component in cannabis, to ease the pain from arthritis, and Marby is part of the demographic that is seeing the largest increase in marijuana use: people over 65.

“Before it was considered a drug and many people were arrested for consuming marijuana,” he tells EFE. “Now we are understanding how valuable it is in the healing process.”

Cannabis, legal in 38 of the 50 US states and here in the District of Columbia, is a viable treatment for “every geriatric symptom,” according to Dr. Mikhail Kogan, a physician and associate professor of medicine at The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

He says that marijuana is the safest of the medicines he prescribes for older patients suffering from chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

“It is much safer than acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and other painkillers,” he tells EFE.

The proportion of people over 65 using cannabis increased from 2.4 percent in 2015 to 4.2 percent in 2018, according to a study published by New York University.

All but 2 percent of those users were people afflicted with chronic illnesses.

While a survey by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that 15 percent of 568 patients had used cannabis within the last three years, half of them for medical reasons.

And 61 percent said they didn’t start using cannabis until after the age of 60.

First-hand knowledge of the health benefits of marijuana are what led Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, wife Stephanie, a hospital administrator; and their son, Joshua – also a rabbi – to establish Washington’s first cannabis dispensary.

They saw Stephanie’s father, who died in 2005, find relief from multiple sclerosis by smoking pot. So in 2013, three years after DC legalized medical marijuana, the Kahns decided to open the Takoma Wellness Center.

They don’t ever expect to turn a profit and money was not part of their motivation, Joshua said in an interview with EFE.

“Once it’s personal, once it’s your family member who’s suffering and only finds relief through this plant, then you’re gonna fight for it because you want them to feel better and live a good quality life,” he said.

“My grandmother too. She had cancer, but what really killed her was wasting away and she was very much affected by the chemotherapy treatments and not having an appetite. And one thing cannabis does really well is give people the munchies,” Joshua Kahn said.

“And it helped her, but she did not have a consistent source of cannabis and certainly not what we have now which is legal, tested, regulated cannabis. So we became dedicated as a family to making sure people who were in a similar position would have access to this plant,” he said.

Around a third of Takoma’s clients are people over 65 and seeing a rabbi as the face of the center alleviates the stigma surrounding marijuana, Joshua said.

Besides the products and images of marijuana, the center is decorated with flags of Israel – where the Kahns lived for a time – and representations of the hamsa, or Hand of God, a symbol used by both Jews and Muslims.

Marijuana remains illegal in the US at the federal level, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans favor legalization.

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