In April 2015, Carrie Tice was despairing over her 80-year-old mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s when a caregiver at her senior center in California recommended giving her a topical dose of marijuana. Many other drugs had failed, but the marijuana made her feel better immediately. She was more alert, more active and looked younger. By October last year, she had moved out of the senior center, and this year she moved in with her daughter in Mill Valley.
“The change in my mom was so remarkable that I wanted to shout it from the mountaintops,” Tice said. “She seemed 10 years younger after 20 minutes, and was happy.”
The experience inspired Tice to quit her job of 20 years at video game software maker Ubisoft and found a company that would supply marijuana to seniors, helping them navigate the state’s intimidating medical marijuana system. Since April 2015, Octavia, as the company was first called, has helped older seniors get doctor recommendations online and order weed products to ease their pain and help them sleep.
The service is needed because seniors often aren’t familiar with the many varieties of weed that can be used. Pot is for sale in many forms: flowers, edibles, oils, vaporizers, concentrates, tinctures, sprays, ointments, and more. ”One time mom told me she preferred a tincture because it didn’t burn her eyes and I freaked out! She was supposed to put the stuff on her tongue!” Tice said.
In 2016, the company merged with a marijuana sales party company called Viva to form Octavia Wellness. The merged company in July began a pilot program at four elder care facilities in the Bay Area, holding gatherings to help residents with their weed needs. In one facility that Octavia Wellness serves, a secret cannabis club with 10 members had clandestinely smoked joints out on the adjoining golf course at night. Now, gatherings are officially sanctioned and standing-room-only, with 190 residents in attendance. The company also has clients from centers that allow brochures but not meetings. Next year it will sell products packaged especially for the elderly, with large type and extra instructions.
The weed needs of the elderly are unique, Tice said. “There are some old rockers at a senior center in Mill Valley who like to get high and buy pre-rolled joints. But most want pain relief, to sleep better and stop fretting. They’re on opiates, constipated, and can’t function on their pills, so once they discover marijuana helps them, stigma’s not an issue.”
Octavia raised $300,000 from investors in this year’s second quarter, and has had 10% weekly sales growth since then. It aims to raise $1 million by the first quarter of next year; so far, $300,000 has been committed. Approval last month of California’s Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana, is spurring interest from more investors.
Revenue from California’s cannabis industry is projected to grow to $6.5 billion by 2020 from $2.8 billion in 2015, the Cannabist reports. The national market is projected to generate $20 billion in sales by 2020 according to market research commissioned by Arcview Group, a marijuana industry incubator. According to another market research report, by analysts from Cowen & Co., the national cannabis industry could reach $50 billion by 2026.
Octavia Wellness, with its niche clientele, may thrive. Now it’s still a startup, and Tice says she’s working 80-hour weeks. “Do I miss steady paychecks,” she asks rhetorically. “Sure. But I love working with seniors, more than anything I’ve ever done. This is the least-served community, and it has the greatest need for cannabis.”