One forward-thinking senior living provider is taking an extra step to clear the air around marijuana use by educating its residents about the green, leafy plant—and by permitting its employees to use the drug recreationally.
Colorado-based Balfour Senior Living plans to kick off a new “Cannabis 101” lecture series on August 8. The lectures, which are scheduled occur at each of Balfour’s four communities through September 15, are part of an effort to help answer questions and correct misconceptions about cannabis use, whether for medical or recreational purposes, Lindsay Mitchell, director of corporate communications at Balfour Senior Living, tells Senior Housing News.
“Balfour really prides itself on being a leader on education on a broad range of topics for our residents and for the entire community in which we operate,” Mitchell says.
Additionally, Balfour has found that in the competitive Colorado job market, it may be best not to test its employees for marijuana use, now that the drug is legal statewide.
Leading the pack
The company does indeed seem to be a leader when it comes to being upfront about marijuana. Senior housing providers—even those in states like Colorado, where pot has been legalized for recreational as well as medical use—have been reluctant to go on the record on this topic.
Still, across the country, more and more older adults are embracing marijuana use, multiple studies have shown. Even skilled nursing residents who are nearly a century old are popping cannabis pills to help with chronic ailments. The changing perceptions are especially noticeable in states like Colorado, which officially legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014.
At Balfour, some residents currently use cannabis to treat aches and pains. Though they can’t smoke in or around the community, they can take edibles, oils or pills for recreational reasons or as prescribed by a doctor.
“I currently use recreationally, but not that often,” Sara Suter, an independent living resident of Balfour at Riverfront Park, tells SHN. “The reason I don’t use it often is it tends to make me drowsy and I don’t want to fall when transferring from my wheelchair into other positions from my paralysis.”
Suter says she plans to attend her community’s August 18 lecture to learn about “something out there that will relieve my neuropathy pain from a spinal cord injury.”
The looser pot policy doesn’t stop with Balfour’s residents. In fact, it also extends to the senior living provider’s employees.
“Colorado is a very competitive job market right now, so we have had to revisit our policies regarding marijuana when it comes to hiring associates,” Mitchell says. “We do test for a lot of different things, but marijuana is not one of them.”
Though Balfour’s planned lecture series is open to the general public, it should also attract a good number of Balfour residents who are curious about the benefits of cannabis.
“Residents are looking forward to it. I think they’re intrigued,” Mitchell says. “They’re going to come and learn and what they decide to do from there.”
Each lecture will be aided by a medical professional and end with a question and answer session.
“We’re going to talk about how cannabis works in the body,” says Dr. Joseph Cohen, who is a physician at Holos Health, a holistic health organization specializing in medical marijuana evaluation.
The lecture will cover the history of cannabis alongside its various forms and uses. Another part of the discussion will revolve around how seniors can consume the plant, including consuming products made with a non-psychoactive cannabis compound known as CBD.
“One of the first things we hear from patients, especially with our seniors is… ‘I don’t want to get high,’” Cohen says.
Both CBD and its more commonly known sister compound, THC, can help with age-related disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis, Cohen says.
“Not all cannabis is the same,” Cohen explains. “There’s so much knowledge people need to have when they’re using it as a medicine. It’s completely different.”
Stratos, a company that makes pharmaceutical-grade cannabis tablets, is sponsoring the lecture series.
“A pressed cannabis tablet looks like an aspirin,” Charlotte Peyton, vice president of business development at Stratos, tells SHN. “That’s something everybody’s more comfortable with, especially seniors.”
But the company won’t just be there to market its products. Instead, the focus is on information and enlightenment.
“We’re not out pushing marijuana on grandma and grandpa,” Peyton says. “We’re just providing education and giving them an opportunity to learn.”
Going forward, Balfour hopes to offer more cannabis-related programming for its residents. For example, the provider is planning to take some of its residents on a tour of a local marijuana dispensary a few weeks after the first lecture.
“We want to do right by our residents and we thought like this was the right thing to do,” Mitchell says. “We’re putting it out there and being honest about what we’re doing. Everyone’s excited.”
Written by Tim Regan