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New York Nursing Homes Offer Seniors Marijuana

HOST INTRO: The medical marijuana industry in New York is slowly lighting up – and in some unexpected places. Seniors at nursing homes are starting to explore marijuana as an option to curb pain from various illnesses. And business analysts say it’s a new market with at lot of potential. Melissa Caceres reports.

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CACERES 1: At a nursing home in the Bronx, Dr. Zachary Palace roams the halls. He’s the medical director of Hebrew Home at Riverdale. He wears a white coat along with a yarmulke. Grey-haired residents frequently stop to greet him. One of them is Leo Schlisselberg, who just went for a swim in the pool.


You saw when I started right?


I certainly did.


Now I’m finished


You’re doing amazing

CACERES 3: Schlisselberg is over 90 years old. And Palace says he still swims 100 laps every day.


He does not miss a day. He’s in the pool every day. And proud of it.

CACERES 4: Palace says he wants residents to stay healthy. And he’s also trying to help them feel fewer aches and pains. One of the ways he’s doing that is through a non-traditional approach that a few years ago was banned in New York – medical marijuana.


This is a botanical product. I mean, this is grown from the Earth. And it’s an herbal remedy. And what we know is the prior to 80 years ago, we didn’t have Big Pharma pushing pills and physicians successfully treated patients using herbal remedies.

CACERES 4: He designed a program that gives residents the option take marijuana, but also let’s the home follow federal rules. That means, the nursing home staff can’t hand out any pot. But doctors like Palace are giving formal recommendations to residents and helping them get marijuana cards online.


So I am the middleman, yeah exactly. I’m the middleman and I’m completely hands-off and as are the nurses.

CACERES 5: Residents who get state approval are allowed to buy the marijuana from a dispensary on their own. The staff then gives them locked boxes to store the pot in their rooms. But that doesn’t mean you’ll see these seniors smoking a joint any time soon.

PALACE 4: Most patients prefer the capsule, and for patients who have swallowing issues, the droplets under the tongue.

CACERES 6: Programs like these are aiming to make pot more accessible to seniors. And for medical marijuana companies, that’s a good thing. Matt Karnes is the founder of a research firm called GreenWave Advisors. He studies the numbers behind the weed business. He says nursing homes are an untapped market.


I think as the baby boomers start to head toward the nursing homes, there’s less of a resistance or sort of an ill-will feeling about what marijuana is and what it does.

CACERES 6: Karnes says he’s seen the positive effects of marijuana in seniors in other states – Even in his own family.


I have an aunt who’s has suffered from chronic pain for many, many years, and chronic nerve pain and everything that she has been offered by her doctor has been ineffective in treating her. Until I went out to Arizona and took her to a dispensary and you know, taught Aunt Betty how to vape.

CACERES 7: New York is slowly loosening the restrictions for someone to get a marijuana card and what kind of medical practitioners can recommend patients for treatment. But for anti-marijuana groups, pot isn’t the safest option. Kevin Sabet is the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He says the danger for seniors is that the chemical in marijuana, THC, could produce psychotic reactions – like panic attacks.


These seniors may not be used to any ingestion of THC and if they last used marijuana when they were in college, marijuana today is about 15 times stronger than it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

CACERES: Back at the nursing home, Dr. Zachary Palace says he recognizes those fears. But with the right amount, he says marijuana can make a difference. Some of his patients with neuropathy who are using pot have needed less amounts of morphine and are becoming more social. He says other nursing homes should start being open to this kind of treatment.


I think in the coming years, we will see more nursing homes adopt policies and procedures like we implemented here at the home. So that patients who qualify for it, can use it without feeling like they have to do it in the closet.

CACERES: Palace says the Hebrew Home at Riverdale is one of the first to have a marijuana program of this kind in New York. But Palace is confident many more will follow.

Melissa Caceres, Columbia Radio News.


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