Return to Transcripts main page
The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper
Weed 7, A Senior Moment. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 06, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ACOSTA: All right. Fascinating stuff from the great Sanjay Gupta. Don't miss the new episode of "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER." One whole story, one whole hour. It's next on CNN.
And thank you very much for joining me this evening. Reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. Have a great night, everybody, and a great week. Happy Sunday and I hope the week goes great here on out. Thanks a lot for tuning in. Good night.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE WHOLE STORY. I'm Anderson Cooper.
In less than 10 years one quarter of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65. That means more people requiring more frequent and advanced medical care which often means more pills. But there's a growing movement in the medical and the scientific community that's urging less pills and more plants. They look at marijuana as a potential life changer for those suffering from age-related conditions like chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, even Alzheimer's disease.
But does cannabis really work for seniors and is it safe?
Over the next hour, Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us around the world as he speaks to skeptics and advocates who are studying cannabis. Sanjay also meets with older users who say their quality of life has improved because of marijuana.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): April 2023. It's a picture-perfect spring morning near the Southern California coastline.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then we'll hear from senior friendly brands with some recommendations and introductions for you about it.
GUPTA: A scene is unfolding that I can hardly believe.
(On-camera): We made our way to Laguna Woods. This is a retirement community around here and I'm about to do something that I haven't done before. Get on this bus which is known as the Cannabus. What happens is people who are seniors who may have a hard time actually getting to a dispensary, they get on this bus, they get some education, then they're taken to the dispensary. We're going to tag along to see how it all goes.
So what are we doing today? What's about to happen here?
BARBARA OILER, CANNABUS RIDER: Well, we're going to have some fun.
GUPTA (voice-over): 72-year-old Barbara Oiler (PH) is a Cannabus veteran. And if that surprises you, it surprises her even more.
OILER: Sure, I grew up in the '60s. It was weed at the time. And it was something you stayed away from because it was scary.
GUPTA: But as the years went by her body started to betray her, a bad knee, painful back. Given the choice of opioids or cannabis, her decision was easy.
OILER: There are so many seniors who know what the value of using cannabis is because at our age, the joints, the aches, the pains, the -- you know.
GUPTA: It's one of the biggest challenges of our health care system. There are too many pills. In fact one-third of all Americans in their 60s or 70s take five or more prescription pills every day.
(On-camera): You believe that cannabis can help replace what the medications are doing?
OILER: One hundred percent.
GUPTA: That's incredible.
OILER: I truly do.
GUPTA (voice-over): 56-year-old Robin Savage (PH) was more hesitant. This was her first run on the Cannabus.
ROBIN SAVAGE, CANNABUS RIDER: There's such a stigma to it, but I want to be more knowledgeable about the cannabis. So that's why I came today.
GUPTA (on-camera): You get to know the other people on the bus here?
GUPTA: Have they become friends of yours?
OILER: Yes. Yes. We do. Yes. We have a cannabis club.
GUPTA: You have a cannabis club?
GUPTA: What happens with the cannabis club?
OILER: Well, we get together and talk about cannabis. GUPTA (voice-over): Between 2015 and 2018, cannabis use in seniors
over 65 jumped 75 percent. These are the people who live through "Reefer Madness" as well as the war on drugs.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm against legalizing marijuana. Even if the commission does recommend it be legalized, I will not follow that recommendation.
DR. STACI GRUBER, DIRECTOR, MARIJUANA INVESTIGATIONS FOR NEUROSCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY (MIND): Older adults represent the fastest growing consumer group of cannabis in the United States.
GUPTA: A lot has changed since 2013 when I first met cannabis pioneer and Harvard professor Dr. Staci Gruber. While she doesn't appear to have aged much, the average age of her patients, older, much older.
GRUBER: I think when we think about cannabis and older adults, there's a very clear and steep trajectory over years that seems to be continuing upward. Probably because of increased availability and increased interest. I think it's a trend we're likely to continue to see.
GUPTA: And it's a trend some people are betting the farm on.
(On-camera): Welcome to one of the largest cannabis-growing operations in the world. This is Glass House Farms and we're about 15 miles south of Santa Barbara, California.
What you're going to find here is six greenhouses, each one about 15 football fields in size, which means they can grow about a million and a half pounds of weed every year. One of the plants that they grow here, for example, is something known as Jelly Fish which is specifically formulated to try and ease insomnia and pain. And here's the thing, just about every plant that is grown here is designed with seniors in mind.
I did not realize how big this was going to be.
SUE TAYLOR, BRAND AMBASSADOR: Wow.
GUPTA: When you look at all of this, what do you see?
TAYLOR: My first thought is that what if all the pharmaceutical drugs that all the seniors are taking, taking now, what if it was replaced with all of these plants? Plants over pills.
GUPTA (voice-over): 75-year-old Sue Taylor is a brand ambassador here at Glass House. She's an unlikely believer and now a messenger for cannabis use in seniors.
TAYLOR: If you said to me, oh, you're going to be the trusted face of cannabis, I would say, oh, you've been smoking too much.
GUPTA (on-camera): What was your perception of cannabis? TAYLOR: I thought it was a drug like cocaine, like crack cocaine. This
was a stigma.
GUPTA (voice-over): But over the last decade, the perceptions, the stigma, and, yes, the face of cannabis has changed.
TAYLOR: It was before the Mama Sue came out.
GUPTA: To this face, a senior, former Catholic school principal, Mama Sue, who opened her own dispensary dedicated to seniors.
TAYLOR: Working with the cannabis is like magic.
GUPTA (on-camera): And you've seen people get rid of their other medications once they start taking cannabis?
TAYLOR: Time after time after time.
GUPTA (voice-over): But none of this is easy. Initially, many seniors were skeptical, worried about getting high.
TAYLOR: I don't like feeling high. I just don't. And I think most seniors are that way.
GUPTA: It's why Sue teamed up with the Glass House dispensary team and their fields of high CBD Jelly Fish plants which Mama Sue says makes it less about getting high and more about getting relief.
That's what the seniors on the bus told me they wanted as well. Pain relief. Better sleep. Less anxiety. Better quality of life. And not getting stoned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here you go, sweetie. Don't race now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to bring in our special guest speaker which is Sue Taylor.
TAYLOR: Thank you. My life didn't begin until I was in my 50s, 60s, out of this world. 70s is off the chain.
GUPTA: Honestly, it all feels a little off the chain. Seniors, some of them older than my own parents, casually strolling a marijuana dispensary in search of a way to change the face, the pace, the struggles of aging itself.
(On-camera): Were you using something else before?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Getting other things, too.
GUPTA: So it really helps you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really. GUPTA: So, Robin, what did you end up with here?
SAVAGE: I'm going to venture off and try a flower roll which is good for relaxation and helping you sleep.
GUPTA: Do you get nervous at all trying this stuff?
SAVAGE: A little bit.
GUPTA (voice-over): Understandably nervous. After all, will it work? What are the concerns about harm? And is there any evidence behind all of this?
Our investigation continues in the holy land of medicinal cannabis. We travel there, next.
GUPTA (on-camera): Almost exactly 10 years ago to the day, I have returned to what many call the holy land of medical marijuana, Israel. And it was here about a decade ago outside of Tel Aviv, I met a group of seniors who were using cannabis to treat everything from their pain to their post-traumatic stress, to their tremors, even their anxiety.
What have the last 10 years been like for you?
INBAL SIKORIN, FORMER HEAD NURSE, HADARIM NURSING HOME: Wow.
GUPTA (voice-over): Inbal Sikorin was the head nurse at Hadarim Nursing Home back in 2013.
(On-camera): I was pretty skeptical of this. Did you think you were going to be able to change my mind?
SIKORIN: I prayed for. I wanted everybody to come to see what I see.
GUPTA (voice-over): I met people like 80-year-old Moshe Rute. For too long, he says, he suffered from debilitating tremors and insomnia. He says cannabis worked for him and it was the only thing that did.
MOSHE RUTE, 80-YEAR-OLD CANNABIS USER: You dream, you fly.
GUPTA (on-camera): When you smoke?
GUPTA (voice-over): For me, it was the first time I had seen something like this. Seniors over and over again using cannabis to sleep better, to gain weight, improve mood, reduce pain. Scientists at Tel Aviv University, they also took notice of this, studying the initial results and calling them outstanding.
Ten years later, Moshe Rute has since passed away but the work and the tedious gathering of data continues. These are the growing fields of Tikun Olam, which translated means to repair the world.
LIHI BAR-LEV SCHLEIDER, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, TIKUN-OLAM: It's different from what you saw 10 years ago when you were here?
GUPTA (on-camera): Yes. Yes. Very different.
(Voice-over): Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider is the director of research here.
SCHLEIDER: This will be --
GUPTA: She's also one of the reasons Israel has been such a world leader in medicinal marijuana.
SCHLEIDER: For us back then it was everything we wanted to achieve, but that study led us to different understanding of the treatment in the elderly.
GUPTA: The final research results were published in 2020 and they found a sharp improvement in the patient's medical conditions and a decrease in prescription drug usage. Once again, more plants. Less pharma.
(On-camera): Where does Israel stand with regard to using cannabis in seniors compared to the rest of the world?
SIKORIN: We can work in a general hospital. We can provide cannabis in a general hospital.
GUPTA (voice-over): Now this is something that may surprise you. But in Israel, not only is cannabis regularly used as a medicine, cannabis is often given in hospitals with specialized training to make sure it is consumed properly.
Sixty-two-year-old Namma (PH) is a cancer survivor. She now deals with chronic pain.
(On-camera): Were you taking opioids and other medications for pain?
NAMMA, CANCER SURVIVOR: I tried 10 years before. I stopped work. I could hardly walk. It was difficult and it was terrible.
GUPTA (voice-over): Her life is so different now. She couldn't even get out of bed back then but is now a thriving yoga teacher. Her visit today is to learn how to vape cannabis instead of smoking it.
SIKORIN: So in Israel at the moment, we have too much people use it by smoke. It's not good for your health.
OK, you want to sit down? I think it's going to be more easy for you.
GUPTA (on-camera): Keep in mind as you watch this, we're in a clinic, in a hospital. This is a treatment that they're administering.
SIKORIN: OK. So, Namma, this is the vaporizer. We start now. It's a little bit different.
NAMMA: It is different.
GUPTA (voice-over): A difference Namma says she felt almost immediately.
NAMMA: Wonderful. Great. I'm not coughing.
GUPTA (on-camera): You're not coughing?
NAMMA: I'm not coughing. I wonder how would it be later. But right now, it's wonderful. Yes. Nice.
GUPTA (voice-over): Again, what really struck me about all of this as I sat there was that this was all happening in a hospital.
SIKORIN: It's not a secret anymore. It's not behind the table. So this is a huge change.
GUPTA: But I do want to be clear, change is never easy. Not even here in Israel.
(On-camera): Do you get resistance?
SIKORIN: Some of them are really against still. They didn't learn about the cannabis. They don't know about how to use it.
GUPTA (voice-over): And so you have to continue to seek knowledge. As we did. 60 miles north in the shimmering port city of Haifa.
(On-camera): What is the most challenging part of running one of the biggest labs at the MIT of Israel?
(Voice-over): Dr. Dedi Meiri travels all over Israel to medical schools, teaching the physicians of the future.
DR. DEDI MEIRI, HEAD OF LABORATORY OF CANCER BIOLOGY AND CANNABINOID RESEARCH, TECHNION FACULTY OF BIOLOGY: We are just starting to scratch the beginning of understanding this complex plant.
GUPTA: His goal, to show how it all works. How cannabis could help treat so many different ailments using the endocannabinoid system.
Think of it like this. We all have an endocannabinoid system which plays a role in just about every function in our body. Your body is constantly making what are called endogenous cannabinoids. Homemade cannabis which bind to receptors like CB1 and CB2 which are found throughout the body.
So, for example, look over here. If someone were to have back pain, that could trigger their homemade cannabinoids releasing and attaching to CB1 receptors in the spine to help relieve that pain. Now when the endocannabinoid system is working well, doctors call it homeostatic. A healthy balance. But here's part of the problem. This starts to change and diminish as we age. MEIRI: There is a big change in tone of endocannabinoids in older
people. And, yes, I think older people are deficient in endocannabinoids.
GUPTA: Dedi believes we just stop making as much as we get older. And with fewer cannabinoids, seniors are more likely to lose that homeostasis, that balance. But Dedi believes it can be restored by ingesting the cannabinoids in cannabis which then bind to those endocannabinoid receptors and help rebalance the system.
(On-camera): Are we deficient in certain endocannabinoids and you're replacing that by giving cannabis?
MEIRI: I do believe that sometimes you need very low amounts just to make your body activate and to do the other things. So starting the engine, it might do it by itself.
GUPTA (voice-over): It's a different way of thinking. Instead of just treating a specific malady like pain, Dedi says cannabis is teaching the body to care for itself.
MEIRI: Instead of taking many pills for each indication, cannabis can affect all of that.
A little bit the pain. A little bit the appetite. A little bit the mood. A little bit in the sleep. But the whole together, you get improving the quality of life. And I think that older people, we can really, really, really help them with cannabis.
NAMMA: I'm 62 and I think it's even better when I was 22 or 42. Now it's the best time of my life.
GUPTA: It's all so hopeful and audacious. In fact, now some even believe cannabis could help with one of the most challenging and one of the most untreatable, Alzheimer's. I'll explain why when we come back.
GUPTA: It's late afternoon, February 2023. When I arrive at what some call Israel's San Francisco, picturesque Haifa.
(On-camera): So you make this walk like frequently to go visit your father?
RUTHIE BEN-SHALOM, HAIFA RESIDENT: Yes.
GUPTA: It's got to be kind of nice.
BEN-SHALOM: Yes. Because I'm glad that I am coming to make him happy.
GUPTA (voice-over): I meet up with 69-year-old Ruthie Ben-Shalom. Energetic, lively and above all, a very good daughter.
BEN-SHALOM: They know that he have memories but they cannot work with them.
GUPTA: It's been a rough road for her father Joseph.
(On-camera): What was he like before the dementia?
BEN-SHALOM: He touched everybody.
GUPTA: Was he very warm?
BEN-SHALOM: Very, very warm.
GUPTA (voice-over): But then two years ago, after his diagnosis, something changed. Something that happens to nearly 90 percent of patients with dementia.
BEN-SHALOM: He started to be angry, shouting, hitting. It was very, very scary.
GUPTA (on-camera): I'm sorry.
BEN-SHALOM: Yes. Yes. I knew that this is not my father.
DR. VERAD HERMUSH, GERIATRICIAN, LANIADO HOSPITAL: When patients with dementia start having aggressiveness, the family members are in a very terrible situation.
GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Verad Hermush, a geriatrician at Laniado Hospital in nearby Netanya. She's been on a mission to try and treat what so far has been almost always untreatable.
HERMUSH: The first thing in the medications that you give them are the antipsychotics. Medications that can increase their probability to death. They can kill them.
BEN-SHALOM: The doctor gave us medicine for him, but he started to be like a zombie.
GUPTA: Hermush had an idea for older patients like Joseph based upon what she had seen with some of the youngest.
HERMUSH: When I saw that cannabinoids are approved for epilepsy for children, I thought, if it can help here, they might help in the behavioral disturbances of dementia.
GUPTA: It was a simple theory. During a seizure, the brain has these sudden outbursts of electrical energy, kind of like what you see here. And that can lead to physical outbursts. Hermush thought the same thing might be happening in dementia patients, leading to behavioral outbursts.
SCHLEIDER: Avidekel was tested in so many clinical trials.
GUPTA: So with the help of Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, they put it to the test. 60 patients, average age 79, half got the Tikun Olam's cannabis oil which is 30 percent CBD and 1 percent THC. The other half got a placebo, and no one knew who got which. After 16 weeks, there were no serious side effects in either group. But the cannabis group had significantly reduced agitation. They also found something that surprised them. In some of the cases, patients were also able to reduce the other drugs they had been taking. Again and again, it was more plants, fewer pills.
HERMUSH: I had the patient, she's getting four, five medications to control her hypertension. With the cannabis oil, we stopped all the medications.
GUPTA: And there was one more thing.
HERMUSH: There's this one 98-year-old that started reading.
GUPTA (on-camera): So their cognition actually improved.
HERMUSH: Actually improved.
GUPTA: And do you think it's because the cannabis is protecting the brain somehow?
HERMUSH: Could be. Could be.
GUPTA (voice-over): Very early studies in mice show something we have never seen before. That is that low dose THC was actually seen to reduce the amount of plaque in their brains. It is early and it is mice. But --
GRUBER: The big question will be what that looks like over a longer course in human subjects.
GUPTA: But in the meantime, Joseph and his family, they're not waiting for any trial results.
(On-camera): So this is it, huh. Ruthie?
BEN-SHALOM: Yes. This is Avidekel. It's changed his life.
GUPTA (voice-over): Twice a day, he takes this cannabis oil that Dr. Hermush recommended.
(On-camera): And it sounds like he's a different man.
BEN-SHALOM: He come back. It's bringing him back.
GUPTA (voice-over): While making this film, I saw scenes like this play out over and over again.
NEIL ROSENBLUM, PALM BEACH, FLORIDA RESIDENT: Bless you.
GUPTA: Including back in the United States in Palm Beach, Florida. This is Neil Rosenblum and his wife Iris. (On-camera): Iris?
IRISH ROSENBLUM, PALM BEACH, FLORIDA RESIDENT: Yes.
GUPTA: How are you?
N. ROSENBLUM: My wife's mother and sister and aunt, they had Alzheimer's. It scared her half to death and it progressed very slowly. Maybe four years ago, she cried for a half an hour every morning like clockwork.
GUPTA: This is full-on crying?
N. ROSENBLUM: Crying.
GUPTA: Did they try different medications?
N. ROSENBLUM: She had enough antidepressants to keep an elephant calm. And still, she cried.
GUPTA (voice-over): In 2019, they started a pilot program here at MorseLife. It's a senior living community in Florida.
DR. MELANIE BONE, DIRECTOR, MEDICAL CANNABINOID THERAPIES, MORSELIFE: Hi, Iris.
GUPTA: Iris was given cannabis.
BONE: You look so beautiful today.
GUPTA: Dr. Melanie Bone runs the program.
BONE: We do CBD. All of the different CB's in them and the Terpenes.
N. ROSENBLUM: Dr. Bone came in and gave her one. She stopped crying. Done.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we go, sweetie.
N. ROSENBLUM: Takes one in the morning, one at night. It's over.
GUPTA (on-camera): It sounds extraordinary.
N. ROSENBLUM: Magic.
BONE: It was so impressive how that worked. Kind of like Charlotte Figi, where you see the seizures change and you go, oh, my gosh.
GUPTA (voice-over): The world paid attention to Charlotte Figi who we first introduced you to 10 years ago. She used to have some 300 seizures a week and nothing worked until she was given cannabis. And then her seizures nearly completely stopped. It changed everything for her and the world. And now seniors at the very opposite of the age spectrum are using it in several countries to treat behavioral symptoms such as aggression and also increasingly for what I call the nuances of aging. Everything from sleep disorders to pain to anxiety. As Dr. Bone saw success with those patients in the memory care unit,
she also saw it with the hundreds of other residents using cannabis all over MorseLife. Like 98-year-old Marvin Horowitz and 94-year-old Ken Tillman.
I got to warn you, with these two, it's kind of hard to get a word in edgewise.
KEN TILLMAN, 94-YEAR-OLD: I'm only going to say nice things about you.
MARVIN HOROWITZ, 98-YEAR-OLD: Can I talk?
GUPTA: We weren't even finished setting up and they were eager to get their message out.
HOROWITZ: My main purpose here is that people over 90 should not stop living.
HOROWITZ: I've taken it over a year, religiously, and it's reinvented my life. Time to take a little more.
GUPTA: It's another living laugh on a much larger scale than the Hadarim Nursing Home in Israel. It also has amazing results.
TILLMAN: I want the equivalence of this.
GUPTA: But also cautionary tales.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's actually going to be a little bit stronger.
GUPTA: That, when we come back.
GUPTA: It's an uncharacteristically cloudy spring day in West Palm Beach, Florida, but for 94-year-old Ken Tillman, it's all sunshine. After all, he's driving to pick up his monthly supply of medical marijuana.
(On-camera): Well, well, well. Fancy car. I like it. How are you, sir?
TILLMAN: Old guys driving cars.
GUPTA (voice-over): And old guys, seniors, using weed. You know, even after my Cannabus experience, I got to tell you, this all still feels a bit surreal.
(On-camera): I never thought I would be taken through a dispensary by a 94-year-old who is going to show me around.
TILLMAN: Who else would take you? I give them my card.
GUPTA (voice-over): Now don't be fooled. Ken is a seasoned pro.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kenneth?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're ready for you.
TILLMAN: OK. Yes, I want the equivalent of this in your label.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. A thousand percent. So we actually do have something perfect for you. So it's actually going to be a little bit stronger.
TILLMAN: Right. OK, and my discounts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We actually have a wisdom discount.
GUPTA (on-camera): And who qualifies for the wisdom discount?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's actually any patient who is over the age of 55.
GUPTA (voice-over): Yes, you heard that right. Over here they call it the wisdom discount. It's not a senior discount o an elderly discount. It's wisdom. I love that. Because it is the wisdom and the experience which has helped Ken on his cannabis journey.
(On-camera): How are you feeling about this?
TILLMAN: I don't mind trying it and finding my (INAUDIBLE).
GUPTA (voice-over): After a couple of years of trial and error, Ken has found his groove. But Ken's cannabis story actually started with an awful scare. It happened in the middle of the night.
TILLMAN: I was afraid I was going to fall out of bed because I started to get dizzy and I was confused, and I was holding on to the mattress on one side because I was afraid I was going to fall.
GUPTA (on-camera): Were you nervous before the first time you ever tried gummies?
(Voice-over): Robin Savage, our Cannabus newbie, she had a similar experience when she took some CBD gummies for sleep.
SAVAGE: When I started to fall asleep, I felt like my chest was closing in. I literally -- I was so disoriented, I couldn't walk.
GRUBER: Finding the right sweet spot can be very problematic for people.
GUPTA: When we told Dr. Staci Gruber what had happened to Ken and Robin, she wasn't surprised. GRUBER: CBD and other constituents is a really, really tricky thing.
Patients do describe by self-report significant improvement in sleep both reduced time to fall asleep and staying asleep. The scientific evidence is less rigorous here.
GUPTA: So here is what we know. THC is usually seen as a sedative, it kind of chills you out, calms you down. But the problem is that in certain cases the exact same strain can do almost the opposite. It can be a stimulant. As you increase the dose, it can go from being sedating to being stimulating.
As for CBD, some studies show just the reverse. Low doses can make you more alert. High doses sleepy. As a result, there's no perfect strain or dose for everyone. It is trial and error. And on top of that, it's not just what you take, but how you take it as well.
GRUBER: One big problem is older adults are very often eat, they eat it as a cookie, as a gummy, it's some kind of an edible, and then they have to digest it before the effect becomes apparent. So it's very, very easy to have a problem with dosing.
GUPTA: Here's why. Your metabolism naturally slows as you age. So that edible, which may have typically kicked in in about an hour, now takes two hours. Thinking that the edible didn't work, the senior may take another edible. Sometimes a stronger one. It's called stacking. And it can be a huge problem.
GRUBER: Imagine the scenario where somebody takes what they think is one dose of something and it's already too high. The experience that they have is actually getting worse over time. Right, it's like the gift that keeps on giving.
TILLMAN: My fear, and I think probably if you would poll the community, this community, the greatest fear people have is falling.
GUPTA: And researchers have in fact seen a dramatic increase in cannabis-related E.R. visits. One California study documented 366 visits from seniors in 2005 which then skyrocketed to more than 12,000 in 2019.
I met up with Dr. Vaishal Tolia. He runs one of the first geriatric emergency rooms in the country. It's at the University of California, San Diego.
DR. VAISHAL TOLIA, GERIATRIC EMERGENCY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO: You know, geriatric patients aren't just older adults. They have a really unique set of needs.
GUPTA: Especially when it comes to drug-drug interactions.
TOLIA: Cannabis use can interact with many medications that patients are often on and cause cognitive impairment, dizziness and some of the underlying reasons for why they actually presented to the emergency department. GUPTA (on-camera): Do we understand enough about those type of
TOLIA: I think studies particularly in the senior population are very limited right now.
GRUBER: Had they now inadvertent increased the amount of other things they're taking, like an anticoagulant? So these things are all incredibly important to be mindful of.
BONE: Would you say that your quality of life, your pain, is a little better?
GUPTA (voice-over): It's why doctors like Dr. Bone work very closely with their cannabis patients.
BONE: We're going to be back in one second with your drops.
GUPTA: She knows that things can go wrong and fast.
BONE: Most of the bad things we see with cannabis is when people just take it and it's more like the recreational side which is pretty unregulated for seniors and can have devastating consequences.
TOLIA: So if you're going to use it, try to do it when I'm around so I can make sure that everything is OK. But also start small. And start it at a lower dose. See how it affects you.
GUPTA: We heard that over and over. Start low. Go slow. It's something Robin told us she did not do. Despite the warnings she heard at the dispensary, she started with the high-dose gummy that she had purchased at another store.
SAVAGE: It really scared me yet to the point where I won't even take any CBD anything anymore.
GUPTA: For Ken, the story is very different. After his scare, he met with his cannabis doctor who amazingly --
BONE: Hi, Ken.
GUPTA: -- makes old-fashioned house calls. Dr. Bone continues to check in and monitor his use.
BONE: Have you noticed anything different in how you feel physically?
GUPTA: What you're witnessing in all of this is a potential new model for cannabis-based health care. But the question, is it viable nationwide and could it actually make cannabis use for seniors safer?
The answer to these questions might lie right where we started in Israel. That when we come back.
[20:51:42] GUPTA (on-camera): Near the Old City, a very modern building with a very progressive mandate. Government regulation of medicinal cannabis. Here at the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem, they've been focused on reform now for the last couple of years. They've been setting up this special cannabis unit to help oversee it.
(Voice-over): Dr. Arnon Afek is probably going to surprise you. He's the one who helped create that cannabis unit.
(On-camera): I've got to tell you. You're the former surgeon general of Israel. You're wearing a green shirt. You have a cannabis tie. You have green glasses. You're all in on what's happening with cannabis here.
DR. ARNON AFEK, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER: Well, when we started, we're going to think of some person who would be the totally opposite of the person you choose for that mission. I never smoked in my life. I never took cannabis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just one pull.
AFEK: But I truly believe that our mission right now based on scientific knowledge is to spread this idea into the medical world so more physicians who prescribe medical-grade cannabis to their patients.
GUPTA (voice-over): It's an extraordinary statement, and it has one guiding principle.
AFEK: We wanted this medical plant to be produced in a very careful way because the first thing in medicine is (speaking in foreign language), do not do harm.
GUPTA: Do no harm. That was the goal when they reformed Israel's entire medical cannabis system, creating strict regulations for growing, manufacturing, and distributing cannabis. Standards that essentially treated marijuana as a medicine.
SCHLEIDER: Those standards ensure that the product will be consistent and safe. And every product in Israel comes with a certificate of analysis. So the patient can look at the analysis and see exactly the cannabinoid in the product.
MEIRI: We are doing six different tasks.
GUPTA: Dr. Dedi Meiri is responsible for analyzing all of Israel's cannabis.
MEIRI: Don't forget that sometimes patient taking cannabis when they are very sick, when their immune is deficient. You don't want to have the pesticides and you don't want to have microbiology, things like that when the body is so ill.
GUPTA: And when the body is so vulnerable, as with seniors.
MEIRI: In Israel, in order the product to reach to the pharmacy, it needs to be tested all the way.
GUPTA: Yes, you heard him right. Cannabis is now available here in pharmacies, real pharmacies.
(On-camera): So let me give you an idea of how this works. Once you get your cannabis prescription from a doctor, you can then take it to one of more than 300 pharmacies that have been authorized by the Ministry of Health to sell medical grade cannabis.
Now these are pharmacies that are going to sell both traditional medications as well as medical marijuana. Let's go take a look.
Are you seeing people who are seniors, people over the age of 65?
LEON GRANAT, PHARMACIST: Yes, 65, 75, 85, 90.
GUPTA (voice-over): Veteran pharmacist Leon Granat says that 98 percent of his business is now cannabis. And much of that for seniors.
(On-camera): Do you think about elderly patients taking cannabis differently than you think about younger patients?
GRANAT: It's different because we need to help them to use the cannabis in the right way. It's not only telling them here in the pharmacy. We are talking to them in the evening.
GUPTA: You'll call them?
GRANAT: Yes, yes.
GUPTA (voice-over): And it's not just outpatient pharmacies, but also inpatient geriatric hospitals, including what are known as CCUs. That stands for Cannabis Care Units.
SIKORIN: This is a huge difference than United States, and I really hope we can be there soon.
GUPTA (on-camera): What do you think is holding back the United States from creating reforms like you're describing?
AFEK: Each state has its own policy and own rule. There are certain states people can take cannabis as much as they want. On the other hand, there are other states that do not permit the use of cannabis.
GRUBER: I think it's an incredibly challenging framework within which to work currently because you have state and federal law a bit at odds with each other.
GUPTA (voice-over): And all of that makes it extremely difficult, even dangerous to navigate, especially for seniors.
GRUBER: When we think about our older adults who are on a fixed budget who plug down $100 for a one-ounce bottle of something they should have 30 or 40 or 50 migs per pill and it has one or two. And they contain other things like residual solvents or other things that could be potentially very harmful.
GUPTA: We took these specific concerns to Dr. Nora Volkow.
DR. NORA VOLKOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE: It's always much harder to regulate a plant.
GUPTA: She's the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
VOLKOW: I'm more worried with respect to potential negative effects, cardiovascular, pulmonary negative effects, effects from interactions of marijuana with other compounds that they may be taking.
I think the thought that Israel is offering us an example of how to basically advance research, they have been leaders from the beginning.
GUPTA (on-camera): You think Israel could be a good model for the United States in terms of advancing research, regulating cannabis, and making it safer for people?
GUPTA: Do you think we'll ever get to that point?
VOLKOW: I am an optimist by nature.
GUPTA: That's right.
(Voice-over): Over the last 10 years, over and over again, it's what surprised us the most.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just the relief.
GUPTA: The optimism. The possibility.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Immediate pain relief.
GUPTA: The impact that carefully controlled cannabis could have. Even on seniors.
(On-camera): Do you think cannabis could change the face of aging?
BONE: I think it's one of the things that can make us age more gracefully and comfortably, absolutely.
MEIRI: I think cannabis can improve aging, so at least living better for sure.
TAYLOR: We deserve to live a quality of life as we age, as we age.
GUPTA (voice-over): A better quality of life for the seniors we met all over the world. So many times, marijuana seems to have given them that. Pain-free walks on the beach for Barbara. Yoga for Namma. Quiet time for Ken and Iris. Ruthy and Joseph. Laughter for Ken. And songs for Mark.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: There's still a lot more studies to be done on cannabis and its risks and benefits for the elderly, but it is already catching on. People over 65 years old are now considered the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis customers.
Thanks for watching THE WHOLE STORY. I'll see you next Sunday.