According to a recent study co-authored by famed organic chemist Raphael Mechoulam — best known as the pioneer of cannabinoid research and for discovering the endocannabinoid system — an increasing number of elderly people aged 65 and over are now consuming medical marijuana.
The study, originally published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine in March 2018, saw medical cannabis given to 2,736 elderly patients who were then monitored to see how the plant affected them. Most of the patients involved in the study used medical cannabis to mitigate the effects of chronic pain or cancer.
At the end of the six-month treatment period, 93.7 percent of the participants reported improvements in their conditions, while a small percentage of study participants reported adverse effects, such as dizziness (9.7 percent) and dry mouth (7.1 percent).
Of particular note is that more than 18 percent of study participants stopped using or reduced their consumption of opioids.
Other studies and opinion polls, including the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, show seniors are increasingly interested in consuming medical marijuana as it becomes legal in more US states.
People assume the elderly will buy their cannabis from dispensaries or from the black market. However, many of us have an older relative or friend who enjoys gardening and so may be interested in growing their own medicine.
One of my elderly relatives, a retired 73-year-old widow who I’ll call Ethel, finds that the most pleasure she has in life comes from gardening outdoors and from growing indoor plants, including orchids and African violets.
She asked me about growing cannabis, because it is now legal in her state to keep a small number of plants at home.
She suffers with arthritis, inflammation and stiffness, and sometimes has problems getting to and staying asleep. She’s also on a fixed income and no longer drives, so doesn’t have easy access to a legal marijuana dispensary.
Most of us will be fortunate to be elderly citizens someday. And what better way to help the aged than by assisting them in growing their own marijuana?
This is the advice I gave Ethel about growing her own.
Helping Seniors Easily Grow Their Own Medical Marijuana
Ethel is in many ways a naturally better gardener than I am. In her tiny yard and in her home, every plant and tree she tends to is lush and healthy.
I’ve tried to grow orchids, and it was a disaster. Meanwhile, hers bloom for months and emit the loveliest of scents.
It took me two years of subpar cannabis crops before I was confident in my growing skills. But plants of all kinds love Ethel, and I had no doubt pot plants would love her, too.
When we first started talking about seniors growing marijuana, Ethel knew little about hydroponics growing and nothing about cannabis cultivation.
She grows non-cannabis plants indoors and outdoors, plus trees in soil. When she was younger, Ethel made her own compost and compost tea. For that reason, I felt the easiest way to get her into growing weed is to keep her in her comfort zone by utilizing gardening tactics she’s already familiar with, and that meant she’d be doing container gardening using individual pots and soil.
Because she doesn’t have the money or desire to invest in hydroponics grow lights and grow-op equipment, I suggested she grow autoflowering marijuana strains outdoors.
Fortunately, she has a high fence plus a privacy hedge, so the possibility of anyone seeing pot plants on her property was low.
The benefits of autoflowering strains include: no need for artificial lighting and controlled light cycles in order to flower and yield (although, they do yield the most when they have 18–24 hours of light during bloom phase); they’re much hardier than photoperiod marijuana strains; they finish faster than photoperiod strains; and they have relatively high levels of medically useful cannabidiol (CBD).
Also, autoflowering strains are feminized, so Ethel won’t have to worry about detecting and removing male plants.
The two main points as to why I don’t grow autoflowering strains — they have leafier buds and lower potency than photoperiod plants — are actually a benefit for seniors like Ethel. Autoflowering marijuana’s lower potency automatically determines the concentration of the dose. I’m pretty sure that if Ethel grew or used high-potency photoperiod bud, it would be too strong for her.
Helping Seniors Understand Fertilizers For Cannabis Growing
To her credit, Ethel doesn’t use Scotts Miracle-Gro, Peters, or any of the other fertilizers that harm plants and the environment. Rather, she uses Espoma products for her indoor and outdoor plants, and wondered if she could continue to use those products if growing cannabis. I explained that although cannabis crops usually won’t die if you feed them generic fertilizers, they’ll do a lot better if you feed them marijuana-specific nutrients.
Explaining Cannabis Growth Phases To New Growers
Cannabis is a unique plant, much different to the plants and trees Ethel was accustomed to growing, and so I felt the need to educate her about this new cultivation world.
I started out by sharing that even with autoflowering strains, cannabis has distinct grow and bloom phases. In the case of autoflowering plants, grow phase is only two to three weeks long; bloom phase automatically follows and lasts another 50 to 70 days, depending on the strain.
When she examined the ingredients lists for these cannabis nutrient products, Ethel was impressed by how different they were to any fertilizers she’d ever used before.
Breaking Down The Timing Of Cannabis Harvesting
Monitoring resin glands is by far the best way to understand bud ripeness so that you know the perfect time to harvest. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is by using magnifiers.
However, Ethel has poor eyesight, and is likely to struggle with a magnifying glass, so I helped her choose autoflowering strains that would likely help with arthritis pain, inflammation and sleep problems. Also, it’s worthwhile to note that cannabis seed packs often provide information about total crop time, from germination to harvest.
Helping Seniors Choose The Right Medical Marijuana Strains For Them
Seniors who seek to grow their own marijuana should first talk to their physicians, study marijuana seed catalogues, and contact seed breeders and sellers for advice about which strains could work best for their conditions.
Most cannabis strains are hybrids, with a mixture of cannabinoids and terpenoids, so their psychoactive and medical effects aren’t easily predicted.
Cannabis also has idiosyncratic rather than standardized effects. Each person’s endocannabinoid system and different physiological traits interact with cannabis to create an entourage of effects unique to that person.
That being said, I selected for Ethel all-indica and all-Kush strains I was sure would help with arthritis pain and also with her insomnia. Sativa-dominant strains are likely to keep her awake at night.
What Happens To Your Outdoor Grow When The Sun Doesn’t Shine?
Ethel is fortunate to live where the climate and sunlight exposure are compatible with growing autoflowering cannabis outdoors for seven months a year, which is enough to bring in two autoflowering cannabis harvests within that 12-month period.
This supplies all Ethel’s medical needs, with several ounces remaining. However, there are elderly people who require more medicinal marijuana, or who can’t grow outdoors, and so would do better with a small indoor garden.
While there are not yet on the market any compact, convenient, easy-to-use indoor grow setups aimed at seniors or those less able-bodied among us, the closest I could find were those small contraptions with miniature flood and drain systems and low-watt LED grow lights. The total growing height in these mini-herb systems is less than two feet — which is not enough height, even for squat autoflowering marijuana plants.
I recommend for elderly people a simple all-in-one tent system, although this requires substantial setup, has a noisy vent fan, and creates significant electricity draw.
One thing I want to emphasize: If it’s illegal to cultivate cannabis where an elderly potential grower lives, I wouldn’t recommend they grow at all. The worry, stress and potential legal and security problems are stressors elderly people shouldn’t have to endure.
Being A Good Samaritan By Helping Seniors Grow Cannabis
My assistance to Ethel included pointing her to helpful grow articles, helping her choose and order autoflowering seeds, buying fertilizer products for her, and visiting her home to make sure she was germinating seeds properly and to guide her as her plants grew bigger.
I helped her fill the five-gallon pots with Roots Organics potting soil and am hoping that the next time she grows, I can convince her to go with soilless mix, because an inert root-zone media is far better for controlling how nutrients enter plants.
The strain she grew first was Dinafem autoflowering OG Kush, with the strain ready for harvest 79 days after germination.
As with all her other gardening ventures, Ethel’s autoflowering cannabis leapt out of the soil and performed admirably. I could see she was fascinated with and intoxicated by the unusual complexities, scents and visuals of cannabis plants. “This is way better than orchids and violets!” she enthused.
I showed Ethel how to harvest, how to hang her three plants in an open, aerated closet inside her air-conditioned house, how to know when the buds are properly dried and cured, and how to manicure buds.
Finally, I bought her a desktop vaporizer and was with her the first few times she inhaled cannabinoids and terpenoids.
After Ethel’s physician gave her his tentative approval, the next step was for me to help her avoid overindulging. I suggested she take one small inhalation of vapor, hold it in for 10 seconds, then wait a half hour to see how it worked for her.
After she took her first ever hit of cannabis, Ethel started giggling uncontrollably. She’s usually a taciturn person.
After a few minutes more, she went to the refrigerator and ate what she described as “a lot more than I normally would.”
At the same time, she insisted she wasn’t feeling high or stoned.
Flexing her fingers, wrists and neck (the three places she has the most arthritis pain), she said those places felt like they’d been “oiled” so she could move them better and didn’t experience the pain she normally felt.
Later, she said she no longer needed prescription arthritis and insomnia drugs she’d relied on for years.
It made me smile that Ethel’s medical cannabis experiment was a success.
She found what medical marijuana users are looking for — medical effects without any mind-altering outcomes. She didn’t get intoxicated, and her mood and thoughts remained as they were before she inhaled.
Being a helper to an elderly cannabis grower is a sweet way to give back to seniors and feel the high of helping others. When older people grow their own, they’re getting a lot more from their garden than they would from violets or begonias.