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Senior Citizens and Cannabis: How to Provide an Excellent Dispensary Shopping Experience

18 April 2019  |  15 min read

Seniors and cannabis - creating a positive experience

The quick rise of the recreational cannabis industry has given way to many trends that retailers didn’t see coming in the early days of legalization. The products people buy, the types of experiences expected at cannabis dispensaries, and the demographics of the customers that come in are all evolving.

When the first recreational stores started opening, one trend that became quickly apparent was the larger-than-expected number of senior citizens buying and using cannabis products — many of which had never used cannabis or at least had not for many years. The population of senior citizens using cannabis is small, but growing rapidly. As attitudes towards cannabis begin to shift on the national level, senior citizens are taking an interest in cannabis products for medical use as a substitute for daily aches and pains, to relax, or strictly for recreation.

Individuals over 50 are the fastest growing group of recreational marijuana consumers in the United States. Customers in this range have been around cannabis long enough to know that it isn’t going to kill them and that anti-weed campaigns of the past overstated the associated dangers. They are also open to the numerous health benefits and wellness applications of cannabis.

Individuals over 50 are the fastest growing group of recreational marijuana consumers in the United States.

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A 2016 study found that in medical marijuana states that used Medicare part D (a benefit that is primarily used by senior citizens), patients in those states received fewer prescriptions for drugs that treat depression, anxiety, pain, and other chronic issues. Another study that appeared in the Journal of American Medical Association found that opioid prescriptions for Medicare part D recipients dropped 14% after their home state legalized medical marijuana. Additionally, 76% of Baby Boomers reduced reliance on over-the-counter drugs and 49% reduced reliance on prescription medications as they increasingly turn to cannabis for relief, according to a 2018 study by Eaze.

Because the interest in cannabis clearly exists among Baby Boomers and older generations, they are a customer segment that all dispensaries should know how to cater to. Sure, there will be some overlap with the way that you sell and explain your products to younger generations, but customers over the age of 50 typically come in with more questions, less knowledge of the products, and a higher likelihood of having never used cannabis before. Having a game plan in place specifically for senior citizens will help you to provide a positive and safe experience.

Customers over the age of 50 typically come in with more questions, less knowledge of the products, and a higher likelihood of having never used cannabis before.

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In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic steps that any dispensary can take to tailor their service to the senior demographic and ensure that they have the best possible in-store cannabis shopping experience possible.

Creating a senior-friendly shopping environment

If you want seniors to be comfortable in your store, you can create a more pleasant shopping environment by providing:

  • Wheelchair accessibility: If you don’t already, make sure that your store is wheelchair accessible. Many seniors struggle with climbing stairs, so it’s important to minimize any physical hurdles getting into your store.
  • Seating areas: Another consideration is whether or not they will have a place to sit down. For senior patients, it can be tiring to stand or walk for too long. Ensuring they have a comfortable place to sit if they need a break is a nice touch that other customers will appreciate as well.
  • Clear signage: Make sure that your signage is clear and easy to read. Customers should be able to easily find your shop from the street. Once inside, make sure that your text is large enough on all signs and menus so that seniors won’t have any trouble reading what’s for sale.
  • Senior discounts: Turn first-time senior shoppers into repeat regulars by giving them an incentive to come back to you. Many dispensaries make seniors feel more welcome by offering a 10% discount on every purchase for ages 65 and over.
  • Senior community programs: Consider classes, wellness groups, programs, or services specifically catered to senior citizens in your community. Some dispensaries provide ongoing education on cannabis usage in the form of regular meetups, an onsite medical professional, as well as health services such as massage or chiropractics.

These are small changes that make a significant impact on senior citizen shoppers. But, it’s important to remember that you’ll have customers of all ages that will appreciate these nuances.

Making time for personalized service

You should expect to spend more time with a senior citizen that comes into your store than you would customers of another demographic. Even if they have used cannabis in the past (or even currently partake), they may not be aware of the different types of products and uses available today. They are also more likely to come in looking for strains and products that can help them with specific ailments.

Here are a few things that you should prepare for when walking seniors through the buying process in your store.

Understand their shopping habits.

Seniors shop differently than other demographics. Most are retired, which means that they are more likely to shop during the day while others are busy working. They are less likely to come in later at night. A recent collection of studies published by the Association of Consumer Research found that seniors are more loyal than young shoppers and tend to stick to a “home” store. This means that it is incredibly important to provide seniors with an excellent experience on their first visit. To encourage repeat visits, offer a senior citizen discount!

Seniors are more loyal than young shoppers and tend to stick to a “home” store.

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Seniors are also more likely to order delivery or order ahead, pick up in store for convenience. In states where cannabis delivery options are available, you may find that a higher percentage of your customers are seniors. Flowhub provides delivery and order ahead options through our seamless integration with Dutchie.

They may have many questions.

Understand that when a person in that age bracket comes into your store that they may have many questions about your products. They may need information about cannabis in general. They may be on the fence about whether or not cannabis is the right choice for them. Then, they’ll need help understanding how the products should be used and what products might be the right fit for their needs.

You’ll also find that many of the questions that seniors have overlap with the typical questions of first-time users. Ensuring your staff has answers prepared for those questions will not just help you provide better service to seniors, but all first-time consumers that come into your store.

They will likely have some misconceptions.

There is a good chance that they will have some misconceptions about cannabis itself or about the products that you sell in your store. Remember, many seniors have never used marijuana before. Those that have used it previously may only have experience in consuming it through joints, pipes, and sometimes edibles. Easing the misconceptions that they have about cannabis as a plant and the products is critical.

There is a lot of misinformation about cannabis online, both positive and negative. Knowing some of the common misconceptions can help you prepare answers for your team. It is also a good idea to have some pamphlets on hand that help to dispel common myths and cite reputable references.

They must understand dosage for a safe and fun experience.

People can use less product to achieve the same high as they did the 1960s and 1970s due to increased potency. Over time, and particularly as medical and recreational legalization has become more common, the potency of cannabis has increased as growing techniques and strains become more refined. Today's cannabis is nearly 4x as potent as it was in 1995, based on the THC content of plants in that time span.

Today’s cannabis is nearly 4x as potent as it was in 1995.

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Although reliable data going back farther than 1995 is relatively scarce, you can imagine that the THC content of cannabis in 1995 was much more potent than cannabis from 20-30 years earlier. In other words, seniors would only have to consume a fraction of the cannabis they did during their younger years in order to achieve the same effect.

Back then, they may have smoked a full joint and felt a buzz, but it would have been relatively light compared to today’s products. To smoke a whole joint of today’s cannabis with no recent experience might not only send them down a rabbit hole they can’t undo for several hours, but it might also negatively affect their perception of the drug completely.

Cannabis education for senior citizens - THC potency over 2 decades
Source: The Mercury News

It’s important that these facts are explained to seniors that come into your stores looking to buy. Whether they are interested in buying pre-rolled joints, flower to smoke out of a pipe or bong, or edible — it’s critical that they have a full understanding of the potency of the product and are always advised to start with small amounts and move upward as they become more comfortable.

Start by identifying when the last time they used cannabis was. Those that haven’t used in decades will have no frame of reference for modern potency levels, so you know you’ll need to instruct them to use smaller amounts than you would seasoned smokers.

Asking about their usage history

To make the best possible recommendations, it’s important that you understand the usage history. The products that you recommend to someone that last smoked a joint in the 1970s will be different from a senior that used cannabis last year. Find the consumption method that best fits their needs.

Here are a few basic questions that you can ask to help you with your product recommendation process:

  • When did they last use cannabis? This is important for potency reasons. It’s also important to know whether they know how to consume the products they are interested in buying. If they last smoked a joint 40 years ago they may not actually know how to light, hit, and inhale effectively. Always ask if and when they have used marijuana in the past.
  • How did they last consume cannabis? Another important consideration. If they used cannabis in the past did they smoke a joint? A pipe? Eat an edible? Knowing how they have consumed cannabis in the past can help you to make product recommendations, identify where further education is needed, and provide a more educational marijuana shopping experience while they are in your store.
  • What are they most comfortable with now? Their personal preferences are hugely important. If they have their mind set on consuming cannabis a specific way (joint, pipe, bong, edible, etc.) then it is important that you focus on educating them on that particular delivery method. You can still make other recommendations, but comfort with the delivery method is important for having a positive experience.

For seniors that don’t have a specific delivery method in mind, making the right recommendation is important.

Senior citizens and cannabis delivery methods

Choosing a delivery method

Choosing a delivery method is one of the most important considerations when helping senior citizens. While it may be a good idea to recommend a delivery method that they have experience with, that may not always be the case. Taking their own preferences into account is important as well.

However — your role is that of an expert. Your job is to listen to their concerns and make a recommendation that will best suit them based on the information that you have available. The below delivery methods are typically suitable for senior citizens that have never used before, or for those that haven’t used for a long time.

Here’s a quick rundown of the common delivery method recommendations for novices and the reasons and situations where they might make the most sense:

  • Pre-rolled joints. There is a high probability that if they have used cannabis before, it was consumed via joint. This makes it a logical recommendation choice for many beginners. They are familiar with them. They know how they work. As long as they understand how to inhale there is less education required on actually using the delivery method to feel the effects. However, remember to explain to them that the joints of today are more potent than the joints of yesteryear, and recommend that they start by smoking a quarter or less of the joint to get a feel for cannabis and have a positive marijuana shopping experience. Many seniors would also like to avoid inhaling smoke if possible, especially if they have existing respiratory conditions, so joints may not always be the best solution.
  • Flower. There is also a higher likelihood that they have experience smoking standard flower out of a pipe or bong. Either way, you should teach them the appropriate way to use the device, how much to load into the bowl and general best practices. As always, advise that they start with a small amount and step up as they get more familiar with the feeling.
  • Edibles. Seniors may also have experience with edibles. They represent the easiest way to consume cannabis, giving them the option of eating a piece of candy or drinking a beverage. However, people greatly underestimating the potency of edibles is very common in recreational states. Make sure you instruct them on the appropriate amount to eat, likely starting with 5 milligrams of THC or less. Explain what will happen if they eat consume too much. Also, let them know that edibles can take as long as 1-2 hours before you begin feeling the full effect. Too often consumers will buy an edible, eat it, then 30 minutes later when they don’t feel anything yet they eat more. That is a recipe for disaster and an educational approach is critical here.
  • Vape pens. A vape pen is another great option for seniors that don’t want to (or cannot for medical reasons) inhale smoke. They are easy to use, provided you educate the customer on the different components of a vape pen and show them how to use the particular model that they buy. Let them know that vape pens can be extremely potent. Like other delivery methods, recommend that they start with a few small hits, then wait a bit to see how they feel. Even a few small hits from a vape pen can be intense.
  • Topicals. Topicals represent a new way to use cannabis and its byproducts that seniors may not be aware of. Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils that are absorbed through the skin. Topicals contain higher levels of CBD and not THC, which makes them a great option for seniors that want to avoid intoxication. They can be used for the relief of pain, soreness, and inflammation. Strain-specific topicals may contain specific terpenes and cannabinoids in order to provide specific benefits from their use.
  • Sublinguals. Sublinguals, also known as tinctures, are cannabis-derived oils and liquids that can be consumed by placing a drop under the tongue. Often sublingual cannabis is high in THC, CBD, or specific terpenes. They are one of the only non-inhaled cannabis options that can provide quick relief from symptoms. They also make for a simple way to consume cannabis for recreation without inhaling.

In the end, finding the right delivery method for senior customers might just come down to what they have experience with and what they are comfortable with. Still, educating them on each delivery method and all of the pros and cons associated with them is critical.

Choosing a strain

Choosing the right strain of cannabis and matching it to their desired outcome is important. For new smokers, all cannabis strains can provide an intense experience that may blur the lines between strains and their advertised effects — but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to find the perfect strain for your customer.

Start by asking what kind of experience they want from the product that they buy. Do they want more energy? A body high? Something to help them rest at night? Different strains provide different common effects. Start by explaining the differences between sativa, indica, and hybrids as you would with any other customer.

Many seniors tend to lean toward products with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC.

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Depending on their answers and how the discussion goes, you can recommend specific strains for particular effects. If they are looking for something that gives them more energy, a sativa-dominant strain is typically the right choice. Indica-dominant strains are popular for those that would like help with sleeping.

For customers that are looking for something to help them with pain management, strains with high THC and CBD levels may be a suitable choice, regardless of whether they are indica or sativa. There are many cannabis products that are CBD-only. These products don’t include THC, so they don’t have any intoxicating effects. CBD-only products offer seniors mild symptom relief without psychoactive effects. Many seniors tend to lean toward products with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC. Ultimately your customers will have to try different strains to determine which is the best fit for them.

Send-off considerations

Before you send them out the door, there are a few more boxes that need to be checked. First, make sure that you remind them of the most important aspects of their purchase — how to use the product, dosage considerations, and when to consume it based on their desired effects. It’s best to send them off with a full usage plan. Having literature and educational content on hand will ensure that they always have something to reference. Before they leave, make a note in their customer profile about what was discussed and considerations for the next time they come in.

For seniors, consuming cannabis can be an intriguing but potentially scary prospect. It’s our job as retailers and dispensaries to ensure that they have the best possible cannabis shopping experience, both in-store and when they use the products. Following the tips in this article will ensure that you provide a comfortable and positive experience for seniors who are interested in buying cannabis products.

Serve your senior customers with Flowhub

Now that you have best practices under your belt and know how to best serve this golden-age demographic, be sure to have the right tools to execute them. Flowhub's business performant software is built to help your staff better segment and target senior citizens with robust features like customizable specials and trackable customer profiles to make every visit more personalized.

To see these features first hand, reach out and schedule your demo today, or call us anytime with your questions at (844) FLOWHUB. We look forward to hearing from you!

Ryan-bozeman-hs

Ryan Bozeman

Cannabis Advocate at Flowhub

Ryan Bozeman is a Flowhub contributor who specializes in covering all things cannabis. Based in Seattle, WA, Ryan helps Flowhub educate and inspire cannabis dispensaries to achieve high success.

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