Medical marijuana has been legalized in 33 states, and many medical experts now approve of its use for particular conditions that affect Americans over the age of 50. This year, the AARP Board of Directors considered the emerging evidence suggesting that marijuana is helpful in treating such conditions and symptoms, then approved a policy supporting the use of medical marijuana in the states that have legalized it, and supporting further research on medical use of cannabinoids to help alleviate the symptoms of diseases and the side effects of the treatment for diseases. Here are seven basic facts you need to know:
1. You are on your own
You may be thinking, Hey, if it’s "medical,” a doctor will help me navigate the green new world. Often, that’s not so. A few users have a medical marijuana doctor who walks them through products and shows them how to use a vape pen. But that’s unusual. “Older people think there will be a prescription waiting for them at the dispensary, like at a drugstore,” says Rick McKnight, 72, a retired sales executive from Ocala, Florida, who self-treats hip pain with marijuana. “It’s not like that. You get your medical marijuana card. The doctor gives you some recommendations — not a prescription. Then you’re on your own.”
2. Dispensaries carry a dizzying variety of products
It’s like a trip to an adults-only candy store, loaded with tinctures and oils, vape pens and “flower” (dried marijuana), mouth sprays and skin patches, fancy chocolate truffles, cinnamon-scented cookies, and sodas, balms and lotions, all laced with the active ingredients in cannabis. You’ll also find high-strength concentrates, waxes and resins. What’s on sale differs by state, and free samples and in-store use are against the law.
3. Today’s cannabis is super-potent
“This is not the marijuana people smoked in dorm rooms in the 1970s,” says Staci Gruber, the director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) program at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. “You have to be careful.” Clandestine marijuana growers have for decades been cross-breeding and selecting the highest-potency plants to create more powerful pot. Levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the compound responsible for marijuana’s euphoric highs — in cannabis averaged 4 percent in 1995 and rose to 17 percent by 2017, studies show. It hasn’t stopped there. You can buy sealed bags and rolled joints featuring marijuana strains topping 28 percent THC, and concentrates with 85 to 90 percent. Fortunately, plenty of products that are low in THC and high in cannabidiol, or CBD — the other major cannabis compound — are available.