Data show more American senior citizens are using more medical marijuana. But some who are trying to do their own research aren’t finding answers they need.
Belinda Davis said she remembers back doors, secret shops, shady exchanges and cryptic messages on bulletin boards when it comes to the underground weed sales in Fayetteville, Arkansas where she came of age in the 1960s.
Now living in Oklahoma City, the 76-year-old Davis says that even with the persistent tide of medical marijuana legalization across the country, cannabis has remained what she has always known it to be: illegal. But with increasing joint pain in her hands, medical marijuana might help her avoid the more intense side effects of prescription drugs.
“I think there’s a need for it because I feel that there’s too much medication that’s given by prescription,” she said. “I don’t want to lose control, but I don’t like hurting either.”
According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year, between 2015 and 2018, the number of Americans age 65 and older who smoke or ingest marijuana increased two-fold from 2.4 percent to 4.2 percent. In 2006, only 0.4 percent of seniors reported using marijuana products.
Despite this trend, Davis said it can be difficult for much of her generation to overcome the decades of deeply-ingrained apprehension towards marijuana, especially without access to crucial information.
In the past, she has relied on others to look into it for her.
Davis first became acquainted with medical marijuana when it was proposed as a potential treatment for her daughter Lisa’s lupus. Before medical marijuana was legalized in Oklahoma, everything she knew on the topic came from Lisa’s fervent internet research.
The family even considered moving to Canada so Lisa could have access to the medication without breaking the law.
“I don’t know how we could have afforded it or whether we could have or not. And we did go up there, and I liked it real well. And she did, too,” Davis said about the potential move. “She just didn’t make it that far.”
Lisa died in 2016.
After Lisa’s death, Davis’s older daughter, Joanna, went to work with the State Question 788 campaign, eventually celebrating the legalization of medical marijuana in Oklahoma in June 2018.
‘We want to feel better’
Joanna recommended that her mother look into medical marijuana to treat her own conditions, Davis said.
But Davis doesn’t know how to find the answers to her questions. Neither do many of her friends. And an informational meeting at her retirement community earlier this year didn’t help, she said.
For many of them, the next obvious place to look was towards their doctors.
However, Dr. Lane Peyton, an Oklahoma City-based psychiatrist, said many of these doctors are unwilling or unable to clear up their patients’ cannabis confusion.
“If you just ask an open question to most doctors in the state, ‘Do you support marijuana as an alternative to prescription medication?’ I imagine 90 percent of them would say, ‘No,’” Peyton said. “There’s a lot of siloing and territorialism in medicine. It’s not very collaborative.”
Until the medical field is able to openly communicate and agree on how to handle medical marijuana, patients like Davis will continue to be uninformed, according to Peyton.
Without complete knowledge of the patient’s health history, certain pre-existing conditions may be overlooked in medical marijuana evaluations, thus rendering the cannabis ineffective or potentially dangerous, Peyton said.
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He hopes that more time and research will help doctors take a more collaborative approach to medical marijuana prescriptions.
Until then, Peyton said he will make sure he personally recommends resources and certain dispensaries for his patients.
But Davis said that even when information is more easily accessible, it will be difficult for people like her to overcome their own anxieties and stigmas surrounding cannabis to get answers they need.
“You don’t go in place, even at almost 77 years old, and admit, ‘Hey, I don’t know flippity flip about this,’ and you don’t want to spend your money for something that you don’t know about. You don’t want to go home by yourself and take it and wonder if you’re gonna live or not,” she said. “But yet still, down deep, we want to feel better.”