INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The number of senior citizens in the U.S. who use marijuana is still relatively small, but it’s growing quickly.
According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people age 65 and up who admit they use cannabis grew a whopping 250% from 2006 to 2013.
Marijuana is legal in some form in 33 states, but not Indiana. However, that doesn’t mean seniors in the Hoosier state aren’t getting high. I spoke to a group of Hoosier seniors at city market about their reasons for using pot. Here’s what they had to say:
Four Hoosier seniors with four very different stories all admit to smoking cannabis, knowing full well it`s illegal here in the Hoosier state.
Jack and Janet — both retired grandparents — admit their marijuana use is purely recreational.
“I use it recreationally. I like being high,” said Jack.
“I have been smoking it since I was 15 years old,” said Eddie.
Neal claims marijuana helps him manage his pain.
“Now that I am getting older, I am getting aches and pains. Yes, I prefer cannabis.”
“I smoked a little before you came — just a vape,” said Janet. “I`m not afraid. I don`t care. [If] you`re going to arrest me for having a little bit of cannabis, then go for it.”
“I`m not using it medically at all,” stated Jack.
“I like it. I like the feeling that it gives me, very mellow, very relaxed,” Janet explained.
Meanwhile, Eddie and Neal both find that the drug helps ease their aches and pains.
“As I got older, I had cancer, and it helped me through my cancer,” said Eddie.
“Where is it written that you can`t enjoy your medicine? I want to know. I enjoy my medicine,” said Neal.
They`re part of a growing number of seniors who are using pot for pain relief. These seniors would rather use cannabis, especially if the alternative is opiates.
“I don`t enjoy pills or opiates. Cannabis has prevented a lot of physical problems with me, and it`s treated several problems. I am happy with it,” Neal explained.
“I was prescribed opiates by the VA for almost 10 years, up until 2016. I was still a federal employee, so I didn’t use cannabis. 30 years prior, I experimented with it,” said former Marine sniper Jeff Staker. “I still had two years of federal service left, and I looked into medical cannabis and asked my VA doctor if it could get cannabis, and he said, ‘If I could prescribe and recommend it, I would.’
“I think people will tell you they’ve taken opiates and can see how that can be an addictive drug, and cannabis is not an addictive drug.”
Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. As of today, there have been no confirmed cases of THC overdose deaths. A June 2019 Newsweek article did report the death of a Louisiana woman from an apparent THC overdose, however, those findings have been disputed.
Dr. Brett Presley, a psychiatrist with Evergreen Psychological Services, says his patients tell him all the time that they don`t want opiates, they prefer pot.
“My personal opinion, if I had someone in my office for whatever their issues were, and their choice was an opiate or marijuana, especially long term, I would certainly pick the marijuana. It`s just kind of a no-brainer,” said Dr. Presley.
But that`s not to say there aren’t risks with cannabis. There are plenty.
“Are they at any particular risk? Yes they are. I think a lot of it is more physical issue with marijuana use, just because you are inhaling something, a foreign substance, into your lungs. There`s that risk. They would still be at risk of psychotic symptoms, paranoia, mood dysphoria, any of those issues,” Dr. Pressley explained.
Cannabis is a schedule one drug, the same federal classification as heroin and LSD. Its legal status has limited the amount of research that has been able to be conducted in the U.S. Dr. Lisa Hatcher, the president of the Indiana State Medical Association, says that needs to change.
“There are major roadblocks, like good research. And the first thing that has to happen is the DEA has to reclassify marijuana from its schedule one position,” said Dr. Hatcher.
When asked if marijuana is a gateway drug, Janet replied, “No, it is not a gateway drug. How is not a gateway drug? Well, I have been smoking since I was… I’ll be 65 in December. It’s never lead me to any other drug.”
There`s also the issue that these seniors are breaking Indiana law.
“Does it make you feel uneasy because you have to break the law to do what you want to do?” I asked.
“All of a sudden, I am an outsider,” replied Jack. “Police drives by, oh he`s a great guy working in the community and feel safe. But hey, he`s going to stop me and arrest me, so you’ve got that tension with police.”
But Attorney Carl Brizzi with Lewis and Wilkins LLP says the recent decision by the Marion County prosecutor to not prosecute people caught with less than an ounce means police probably won`t be targeting seniors who are smoking.
“They are not a high-risk offender. We`re not going to utilize a bunch of resources to arrest and prosecute them,” said Brizzi.
In the meantime, Janet Brown will continue vaping her THC. She feels like it helps her, and she would tell you that it`s her business and no one else`s.
“I am not a criminal. I don`t feel like one. I don`t care what people think. I really don`t.”