I talked to a lot of older cannabis users when I researched my novel, Betty's (Little Basement Garden). The average age of those who puffed or ingested cannabis was about 55 years old and while most of them were imbibing for medicinal purposes, there was a good percentage that enjoyed cannabis purely for recreational purposes. In fact, some of them liked it so much, they made a conscious choice to give up alcohol entirely in favor of the herb.
I found that idea quite curious and talked at length with those who made this unique lifestyle change. I wanted to know what compelled them to make their decision and each of them had a different reason. Several of the people told me that cannabis had been their "exit drug" (i.e., they used the herb to wean themselves off sleep aids, anti-depressants and, yes, booze.) One 58-year-old Conservative woman commented that she'd tried to quit both sleep aids and her nightly two glasses of red wine cold turkey but then suffered two "excruciating" nights of sleeplessness. After eating half a cannabis cookie her daughter made for her, she slept like a rock and woke up refreshed without the usual hangover and drugged feeling. She told me from that night onward, she decided that cannabis was more enjoyable, worked better than her pills or nightcap to prompt sleep and, as she put it, "produced a centered feeling" the following day.
Other users I spoke to came to the conclusion that "buds and booze" didn't mix well for them and they decided to choose one over the other. As one man in his late seventies informed me, "Cannabis allows you to tune in; booze makes you tune out." He liked the introspective quality that the herb offered him and expressed regret that he hadn't made the switch sooner.
A senior couple, both professionals and well-educated, made the decision to give up alcohol and only use cannabis when the wife needed to quit drinking for medical reasons. While using the smoked cannabis for her medical condition, she realized it was "far more appealing" than her gin and tonic. Her husband agreed and now instead of two shots in a glass, it's two puffs before dinner.
But this lifestyle change comes with a social stigma. Many recreational users were still hiding their cannabis use from family and friends, which made it impossible for them to be open during social occasions or family gatherings. And even if they decided to be open about their decision, they told me how concerned they were about losing valued friends and family members. "You can walk around all night with a drink in your hand," a cannabis convert told me, "but God help you if you pick up a joint and take a hit." However, as one man put it, the social irony could be comical. "We'd be at some get together where everyone was sloshed and we'd be a little high but operating just fine," he told me, "and somebody would bring up 'those damned pot heads,' referring to some baggy-panted kid and not realize they were having a discussion with a 'pot user' right then!"
While replacing alcohol with cannabis may not be a growing trend yet, the idea is gaining traction for people who live in states where cannabis is already allowed for medical reasons. The concept of giving up a nightcap for a "nug" is more likely for those who have already gotten acquainted with the herb from a medicinal point of view because they enjoy the stress and anxiety reducing it provides. And for those who have made the "pot plunge" and quit drinking, the benefits outweigh any stigma. "I never thought I'd say this but pot makes my head feel less muddled than booze," one woman told me, adding with a smile, "and it makes sex incredible."
Laurel Dewey is the author of the first fiction novel on medical marijuana in Colorado, "Betty's (Little Basement) Garden," as well as penning the Jane Perry thriller series.