In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that cannabis use among older adults (65+) in the US has been steadily increasing. They found that the prevalence of past-year use in older adults increased from 2.4% to 4.2% from 2015 to 2018.
These findings are interesting for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because the increase of use in older adults demonstrates that the stigma surrounding cannabis is breaking down (94% of Americans support medical marijuana). After all, they were part of generations who grew up during the villainization of marijuana—the term “gateway drug” came to popularity in the 80’s and seeped into American culture, but animosity towards cannabis dates back to the 1930s. On the other hand, many of these older adults were also “children of the 60s” and have no qualms pertaining to marijuana, which definitely contributes to a rise in medical marijauan (MMJ) use in those 60 and up.
As a company who provides certifications, we can corroborate the findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A majority of our patients are older adults who have tried every prescription under the sun, experiencing either no relief for their condition or negative side effects, and seek a more natural remedy.
Benefits of Cannabis Use in Older Adults
Both our patient records and national findings show that older patients seek medical marijuana for anxiety, insomnia (which is not yet a qualifying condition in our home state of PA), neuropathy, and chronic pain. Here’s how Medical Marijuana can help these conditions in older adults:
Chronic Pain & Neuropathy
As we’ve previously discussed, chronic pain is one of the most frequently cited conditions by those seeking MMJ certification. Pharmaceuticals and opiates are typically prescribed by doctors as a bandaid for pain, but they seldom bring patients any relief. If they do, that relief is often accompanied by nausea and sedation, which can make it hard for people to continue with their daily lives. What’s more, opiate use in those suffering from chronic pain will increase overtime as patients develop a tolerance. This can lead to dependence, addiction, and further health concerns.
Recent studies have shown cannabinoids to be a fantastic solution for chronic pain. This is due, in part, to a plethora of receptors for cannabinoids found in our body’s peripheral nerves and detect pain sensations. Research on experimental animals indicates that cannabis use blocks peripheral nerve pain. This is fantastic news for patients who suffer from neuropathy, chronic nerve pain.
Human trials to study the effects of cannabis on pain are limited due to the ethical and logistical issues of pain experiments so, unfortunately, clinical studies have yet to unanimously confirm MMJ as a treatment for chronic pain.
However, a lack of clinical support does not speak to MMJ’s efficacy for treating chronic pain. As stated above, few studies exist due to the issues that accompany pain experiments in general. Plus, marijuana is still a Substance I drug, meaning performing studies on the effects of the substance is difficult to accomplish or fund. Some of the only clinical studies on the use of cannabinoids for chronic pain stem from the use of MMJ in cancer patients.
Those suffering from cancer experience pain in many ways, whether it’s related to nerve injury, inflammation, or a side effect of a tumor invading bone or other tissue. Pain associated with cancer is typically persistent, severe, and can be incredibly resistant to opioids. Many of the studies conducted on cancer patients indicate that cannabinoids can be a viable treatment for chronic pain, either on its own or used in conjunction with other painkillers to lessen their side effects.
Insomnia & Chronic Sleep Issues
Sleep disorders have been treated with marijuana for centuries. That said, issues with sleep and insomnia are not qualifying conditions in every state with a MMJ program, including in PA, but they remain one of the biggest reasons patients, especially older patients, seek certification. Research shows that sleep disturbances increase with age and that almost 50% of individuals aged 65 and up complain of difficulties sleeping.
THC, the cannabinoid associated with psychoactive effects, has been shown to induce sleep. What’s more, a 2008 study shows that strains high in THC will reduce REM sleep. REM sleep produces dreams, so a disruption in REM may be incredibly beneficial to those suffering from sleep issues related to PTSD-induced nightmares.
Marijuana is also known to cause sedation and sleepiness, which is useful for those who have a hard time falling asleep. It can also help those who wake frequently at night get back to sleep. Unlike sedatives and sleeping pills, marijuana use (in appropriate doses) is unlikely to cause grogginess, confusion, or changes in mood upon waking.
Risks Associated with Cannabis Use in Older Adults
Since cannabis is under-researched and many older adults who use the substance keep it behind closed doors, the full effects of marijuana on this population can be difficult to observe. But, like any medication, marijuana affects everyone differently and there may always be positives and negatives to consider.
For example, the use of cannabis has been linked to increased heart rate and blood pressure in some individuals. Older adults who may have an underlying coronary disease, cannabis use should be used with caution. If too high of a dose is taken, cannabis could trigger anxiety attack symptoms and produce a coronary syndrome or arrhythmia.
Cannabis can also cause negative interactions with other medications. With over 600 chemicals found in the substance, using THC or CBD could increase or decrease blood levels of other drugs found in a patient’s system by altering enzymes in the liver that metabolize medications. This issue is more often caused by CBD than THC because it inhibits the molecules used to break down and clear medications from the body.
Additionally, patients who are using medications associated with serious side effects, such as anti-seizure medications or blood thinners, should always consult a doctor before using marijuana.
Is Medical Marijuana Right for You?
If you’re an older adult looking for a solution to some of your health concerns, medical marijuana may be a viable option. It can treat a plethora of conditions—definitely more than the three discussed in this article—with minimal side effects. As we age, our bodies change and doctors are well-known for offering pharmaceutical options that tend to solve one problem and create another. If you’re frustrated with your current health solutions, why not give medical marijuana a shot?
Medical marijuana is completely legal in Pennsylvania, as well as a majority of other states, and its use is widely accepted by health officials. To determine whether your health concerns qualify for certification in PA, please click here. If you’d like more information or assistance determining if MMJ is right for you, please give us a call at 833-888-5323 and speak to one of our knowledgeable and compassionate Patient Care Specialists.