by Elizabeth Enochs
5 April 2021
Cannabis and aging are two natural parts of life. As you get older, you might notice your tolerance and consumption change.
When I first started consuming cannabis, I was a 21-year-old college student. My cannabis routine consisted primarily of shared bowls, bongs, and blunts packed with THC-dominant cannabis flower, and I typically only consumed on nights and weekends.
Just as it does now, cannabis helped me relieve stress, anxiety, pain, and depressive symptoms back then. It helped me fall asleep faster and sleep better as well. But in the near-decade that’s passed since my first toke, aging has changed my cannabis routine in so many ways. Everything from my preferred method of cannabis consumption to my dosing preferences to my THC tolerance is completely different now.
The topic of cannabis and aging has been on my mind since I entered my 30s in 2020. So, I asked two cannabis-informed physicians — Jordan Tishler, MD, and Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, Medical Advisor at Jushi Holdings, Inc. and Medical Director of Dent Neurologic Institute — to weigh in on the primary ways aging has changed my cannabis routine, and how it might change yours as well.
How aging has changed my preferred method of cannabis consumption
Until my late 20s, smoking and vaping were my favorite ways to consume cannabis. As someone who has always used the plant to relieve stress, pain, and anxiety — and later in my cannabis journey, PTSD symptoms as well — I appreciated the instant relief inhalation provides.
As I age, however, I prefer sticking with edibles and tinctures, partially due to health issues that weren’t present in my life until 2019, but also because I’m more health-conscious in general now and I want to protect my lungs.
When asked about it, Tishler said he doesn’t think preference is the right way to look at one’s consumption methods.
“As a cannabis specialist, I think preference isn’t really the right way to look at it. Different routes of administration cause different outcomes, so the approach is best tailored to the symptoms,” he explains.
Mechtler says something similar: “In general, the best method for cannabis consumption depends on what is the person using the cannabis product for. Are they simply using it to ‘catch a buzz,’ or are they trying to treat an underlying health condition?”
Mechtler recommends tinctures and capsules because they typically yield six to eight hours of relief for patients while inhaled products only yield two to three hours of relief.
Additionally, both Tishler and Mechtler discourage smoking and vaporizing cannabis since those methods put our health at risk. “I would not recommend smoking because it’s not good for us, which is something that becomes of greater concern to people who are older,” Tishler says.
How aging has changed my dosing preferences and my THC tolerance
I moved from California to Missouri in 2019. I still can’t afford my Missouri medical marijuana card — but that’s only partially why my cannabis routine consists primarily of full-spectrum, hemp-sourced CBD products and has for nearly two years. Simply put: when it comes to THC, I feel like less is more.
When I was younger, smoking an entire bowl, taking multiple bong hits, or eating a 20 milligram edible in one sitting felt great.
For years, high doses of THC-dominant cannabis products and strains effectively squashed my anxiety and PTSD symptoms with little or no negative side effects.
But shortly after I turned 29, large doses of THC started making me feel worse. I’m not alone in this experience, either. Anecdotal evidence suggests age can play a role in how a person experiences THC. Additionally, the results of a 2007 study support a connection between age and THC sensitivity.
Over the course of the study, two age groups of rats were given THC and then put through tasks designed to test their stress and anxiety levels. The study results led researchers to conclude that the older rats were more likely to suffer from higher levels of stress and anxiety after consuming THC than the younger ones.
Whereas I used to smoke and vape almost exclusively, often several times a day, these days I prefer taking 15 to 30 milligrams of high-quality CBD two or three times a day. I feel like my current routine works beautifully to ease anxiety and promote sleep. And I love that there’s little risk for impairment or paranoia with CBD. Even when I do manage to get my Missouri medical marijuana card, I’ll probably keep consuming hemp-sourced CBD oils daily and consume low-dose THC edibles only.
Aging won’t necessarily affect your ideal dose or your THC tolerance in the same way it’s been affecting mine, though. Tishler says dose doesn’t seem to correlate well with age. “Some of my highest dose patients are the older ones, even if they started from completely cannabis naive,” he says.
Regarding anxiety and PTSD, Tishler says THC dose can have a very fine line, and crossing it exacerbates those conditions. “I also suspect that the mindset of the patient is very important to where that line lies, and as you age concerns about both existential issues as well as your cannabis use may contribute to shifting that line lower,” Tishler says. Indeed, a number of factors can affect a person’s cannabis high.
Why consistency is crucial for any cannabis routine
Ultimately, aging looks different for everyone, and no two bodies are exactly the same. There are multiple ways to have a healthy cannabis routine, and it’s entirely possible mine will change — possibly many times — as I continue to age.
But one thing is for certain: consistency is essential for any cannabis consumer.
“Sticking to a routine is key,” Tishler says. “Working with your cannabis specialist to find the right route and dose and then taking it consistently (like a medicine) leads to best benefit.”
Whatever your preferences regarding consumption methods and THC content, you can’t go wrong with this standard cannabis advice: start low and go slow.
And with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, cannabis consumers of all ages should be extra careful to protect themselves and their lungs.
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