Steve, 51, remembers the first time he came up well.
“I was a freshman in high school and my friend Chovi from India found me on the handball court spraying pictures of Alfred E. Newman with a stencil I made,” says Steve. “Chovi must have been about 4’6” and had this massive afro in the shape of a square helmet that was three sizes too big for his face. The guy was weird just because of his looks. I had low expectations because I had tried pot twice and never felt anything. And I didn’t notice much of it at first either, but it turned out to be a creeper. “
On the way home, Steve remembers feeling like Albert Hofmann on his famous bike ride after discovering the formula for LSD. Then suddenly he found himself too high and found a locked door in his parents’ house – which meant that he had to face his mother.
“Oh god, my mother had to let me in,” he recalls. “I couldn’t meet my mother like that. As soon as she opened the door, I pushed past her and ran up the stairs. She called to me all worried: “Is everything okay?” And I called back, ‘Yes! Everything is great mom! ‘And I locked myself in my room and played my KISS records. “
That was in 1977. Three stores and a house in the Bay Area’s richest zip code later, Steve is enjoying a new wave of Mary Jane’s seductive tricks. Only these days does he blow his vape pen instead of rolling a doobie.
Steve’s story isn’t particularly unique. Baby boomers across the country are returning to cannabis mid-life after taking a break from the pot. According to a 2012 study by the Agency for Substance Abuse and Mental Health that compared trends to 2002, cannabis use has nearly doubled among people aged 50 to 54 and between 60 and 64. Meanwhile, the use of pots by boomers between the ages of 55 and 59 has more than quadrupled. And they’re not just trying. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that baby boomers regularly use cannabis an average of once a week. And those numbers are expected to increase. According to research by IBISWorld, almost 111 million Americans over 50 will be cannabis users by the end of 2015. That number could increase by a further seven percent by 2020.
Baby boomers across the country are returning to cannabis mid-life after taking a break from the pot.
Part of the reason for this renaissance of refrigerated containers is the rapidly increasing social acceptance of cannabis as a medical and leisure option.
“When medical marijuana became a thing and I realized I could get a pot recipe and control my anxiety problems at the same time, I got to know the pot again,” says Steve.
In fact, studies suggest that boomers use cannabis medicinally rather than recreationally, often to treat age-related problems such as chronic pain, depression, and rheumatoid arthritis. Even Steve calls his vape pen “the most fun anti-anxiety drug I’ve ever been prescribed”. In fact, the only time he calls his cannabis use recreational is the context of a bad trip.
“When I first came back to this in 2009, I had just met a woman and I asked the budtender to give me the best they had. I didn’t ask about a strain that does something special or makes you feel a certain way – just the best. “
The budtender recommended OG Kush, a name he will always remember just to avoid his superpower.
“It was incredibly intense,” he says. “Much too advanced for my old roots. I brought it to my friend’s house and thought I was going to impress her with how hip I was. We had tickets to a show but only sat on the couch for four hours. Don’t talk, don’t move; I wasn’t even sure if she was still there most of the time. Every now and then she would laugh, then I would start laughing. Then it would be quiet for another hour. That was embarrassing. I’ll never smoke such a strong strain again unless I act methodically for the role of a corpse. There was nothing relaxing about this experience. “
With a potency five to ten times greater than that of Mexican swag smokers in the 1970s, baby boomers are understandably worried about going back to cannabis.
“I miss the giggles,” continues Steve. “Pot was very light and giggling back then. Today’s pot is too heavy for me. Its a heavy burdan. “
Despite the industry race to breed strains with the highest THC possible, there are options for baby boomers who want to comfortably elevate without blowing into the stratosphere. Cannabis with THC in the low double digits – say, in the 10-14 percent range – may be a low-impact way to get a gentle hum. And with the advent of the vape pen, boomers stroll their way back to the pot with more ease and grace than ever before.
“Last year I was bedridden after a skiing accident,” recalls Judith, a 60-year-old travel agent from San Francisco. “All I could do was lie in bed and take painkillers and watch Netflix. The pain relievers had me so drunk and out that I would suffer [the pain] As long as I could before I finally gave in and took one. When my son came up to me and offered me a drag on his new vape pen, my first thought was, “Gosh, what kind of robotic joint is that?” But let me tell you, it literally changed my world.
“I mean it that way [worked] faster than the pain medication, and it didn’t turn me into a zombie, ”she says. “Quite a little pull every hour or two kept my pain in check, and I have to admit, it was a lot of fun too! I mean, I laughed at things I couldn’t do anymore on the pills than stare with glassy eyes. With this little pen, I felt like myself again. And getting in touch with my son, watching documentaries and laughing at movies together was a brilliant, unexpected bonus. Now when I have friends, let’s have a little tea. “
Vape pens are ubiquitous as cannabists, including many boomers, can consume discreetly concentrated versions of the plant. Since it is so easy to just take one puff at a time, the vape pen offers the user an easier way to manage the dosage. And because the oil initially contains such a high concentration of THC, one hit is often enough.
Steve says of vape pens, “It’s just a classic way to get up, I think. Mine even doubles as a pen. It’s my new favorite way to get up. “
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.