The increasing number of states legalizing marijuana for both recreational and medicinal consumption has seen an upward spiral in the use of the weed by senior citizens.
However, studies conducted nationwide in recent years reveal that older people generally purchase marijuana to relieve pain and for other medical conditions.
According to Dr Mark Wallace at UC San Diego Health’s Division of Pain Medicine, more research needs to be conducted into cannabinoids, the active chemical compound found in marijuana. Wallace says the effects of marijuana differ, depending on the age of the user and on how it is consumed – eaten, smoked, or used in tinctures.
Wallace regards cannabis as a more conservative treatment for medical conditions than opioids, a sentiment endorsed by a number of older people who use the weed.
Health issues related to aging appear to be the main reason why there is an increasing number of older people turning to marijuana to treat symptoms such as pain, glaucoma, cancer, nausea and neurological diseases.
Professor Brian Kaskie, from the University of Iowa, says there are several key issues about marijuana that still need answers. These are:
—–> Reasons why older people turn to cannabis
—–> Can cannabis consumption result in substance abuse
—–> How and do the medical profession broach the subject of cannabis with their aging patients
—–> Should cannabis substitute opioids
Klaskie says surveys should be undertaken, both at national and state level, to investigate changes in attitude and behavior by senior citizens to the medical, social and legal laws surrounding the use of marijuana.
The number of Americans in the 65 year-plus categories who favor the legalization of cannabis has grown from 22 percent in 2010, to 30 percent in 2017.
Concerns about older people using cannabis
Concerns about older people using marijuana have been expressed by Dr Lynn Webster, a former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
Webster says cannabis slows down reaction time and can adversely affect balance. Expressing concerns about older people losing their balance and falling if using marijuana, she says science had still to establish the dosages to be administered for different health conditions, and whether or not it would have any toxic after-effects on certain patients.
Her concerns are shared by Dr Daniel Clauw of the University of Michigan. A pain specialist, Clauw says marijuana needs more study as very little was known about its effects on elderly people.
Cannabis gaining popularity as a safe alternative to opioids
Cannabis is gaining popularity as a benign and safe alternative to prescription medications in the treatment of health problems suffered by the aged.
A Dalhousie University pain specialist, Mary Lynch, says prescription drugs only provide about 50 percent relief for her patients, whereas marijuana has proven to be more effective for some of her patients.
Dr Lynn Webster says the medical profession is being placed in a difficult legal position when it comes to prescribing cannabis remedies to their patients because, in terms of federal law, marijuana is still regarded as an illegal substance.
Despite the fact that a growing number of states are legalizing marijuana, state laws are trumped by federal laws.
Webster says this scenario has clouded the issue and makes it professionally dicey to prescribe cannabis even if doctors believed it to be more effective and safer than prescription drugs for certain conditions.
Another doctor says most physicians are supportive and keep silent if their patients request medication in cannabis-form. He points out that “zero” is the number of people who have died of cannabis overdoses in the last 50 years.
Of mice and men
In a recent experiment, research found that marijuana reverses ailments in aged mice.
Conducted at the University of Bonn in Germany, low doses of THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, was administered to three age categories of mice – the young, the mature, and the aged.
Unlike their younger counterparts, who became confused, the older mice displayed remarkable signs of improved performance, resembling that of their young and untreated counterparts. Scientists involved in the research described the effects as “very profound” and “very robust”.
However, tempting as it may be, it was critical that further research into these findings be conducted before concluding that THC would have the same affects on elderly humans, says Susan Weiss of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
People in the 65 year-plus categories are more interested in using marijuana for pain relief, insomnia and anxiety than for getting “high”.
An increasing number of medical professionals approve of the use of cannabis for age-related conditions, particularly cancer and glaucoma.
More and more people are turning to weed as an alternative to prescription drugs that have little or no effect on their conditions.
Research shows an increase in the number of older people using cannabis.
As legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis spreads across the country, so will the number of senior citizens using marijuana.