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Credit: Suharu Ogawa

As a growing number of people 65 and older turn to marijuana, those using for pleasure rather than pain would be advised to read the label

In a scene from Score, Radley Metzger’s 1974 cult classic sexploitation flick, the predatory Elvira attempts to seduce innocent Betsy by loosening her up with a bit of weed. Inexperienced in love, life and, evidently, the mythical “power” of the Cannabis sativa plant, a few tokes in, Betsy has a question.

“Am I stoned yet?” she asks.

“I don’t think so,” replies Elvira.

“Then let’s play ‘Chopsticks.’” Betsy sits down at the piano and begins to plink out the elementary tune, then stops. “I don’t remember the words…”

It’s a small yet resonant scene in a movie that, as part of a wave of “legitimate” erotic films, made a tiny splash at release and quickly fell into (relative) obscurity. Score’s art house pretensions have perhaps not aged well. But Betsy’s question—Am I stoned yet?—was completely in tune with the 1970s, a decade memorable for much, including forgettable marijuana. What does this mean today? Say you were a wide-eyed 20-year-old when Score was released. Through the skilled use of computational technology (count backward using fingers), by my calculations this would make you 65—and part of what may be the fastest-growing cannabis-using segment of the population.

Is this true? Are seniors increasingly discovering—or rediscovering—pot? Yes, says Terry Roycroft, head of Medical Cannabis Resource Centre Inc. (MCRCI), a Vancouver-based company that matches patients with physicians who are experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis. Until full legalization, persuading the 65-plus set that pot could bring meaningful change to their lives was a tough sell.

After legalization, though, it was another story. “That changed it dramatically,”
Roycroft says. “It was amazing. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but in fact it really has.” The stigma is gone, it seems, and as a result the floodgates have opened.

But are legions of seniors really digging out their rusty roach clips, or sneaking in a few bong hits while hunkered down in wood-panelled rumpus rooms listening to Dark Side of the Moon? Statistics Canada reports that in the first three months of 2019, a staggering 646,000 Canadians tried marijuana for the first time, half of them aged 45 years or older. And a 2018 review of epidemiological literature in the journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine claims that from 2000-17, the biggest spike in U.S. marijuana use was among the 50-and-over crowd. In that segment, “those 65 years or older had the greatest increase.”

That said, many seniors are using cannabis for health reasons—to help deal with chronic pain and related subcategories. “When you have chronic pain, you [often] have lack of sleep,” Roycroft notes, adding that insomnia is linked to depression, which in turn is related to anxiety. “So those are the top [health problems] we see: chronic pain, sleep, anxiety and depression.” Most of MCRCI’s clients aren’t interested in getting wasted; instead, says Roycroft, they’re choosing products with higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component found in cannabis and used to treat a variety of ailments.

For those seniors who are looking for a buzz, be warned: today’s pot is way more potent than the ditch weed you bought for $20 an ounce back when Score was coming to a dingy X-rated theatre near you.

According to a 2016 analysis of cannabis strength published in Biological Psychiatry, the average concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s psychoactive component, climbed from about 4 percent in 1995 to some 12 percent by 2014—a threefold increase in two decades. Today, a quick perusal of the BC Cannabis Stores website shows several choices in the 20-percent-plus THC range, with one topping out at a hefty 27 percent.

With marijuana that powerful, the last thing you’ll be asking after dancing with a bowl of weed is, “Am I stoned yet?”