Even as the boomer generation — the one known for “tuning in and dropping out” — approaches retirement, there’s a long-held stigma surrounding marijuana among older people. For many who were young in the 1960s and 70s, cannabis was something seen at parties, possibly experimented with, but for the most part set aside. It’s hard to get past decades of federal prohibition and criminalization, so it’s little wonder that in 2017 only three percent of adults over 65 years old reported being “current smokers.”1
However, with medical cannabis continuing to spread through the country — and with more and more research pointing to its benefits for everything from chronic pain and sleep problems to anxiety and arthritis — the tide seems to be turning. In fact, in the 30 states that allow medical or recreational use, the fastest growing demographic of users is adults over 50.2 The face of who is using this substance is getting older and wiser.
But what explains this turnaround, and what do seniors need to be aware of when it comes to medical cannabis? Let’s take a closer look.
Marijuana as medicine
Ultimately, beyond increased access, a big reason that seniors are turning to cannabis is that it helps with a range of health issues. Not only that, some of these effects are specifically beneficial for the medical concerns and needs of older adults. How so? Here’s a quick breakdown:
Chronic pain: A growing body of research is showing that use of cannabis helps manage and minimize chronic pain, a very frequently reported issue among those over 65. A recently published review article assessing the current state of research noted there were numerous studies supporting significant pain-managing effects.3 In addition, this study—alongside others — localized on the fact that cannabis users with chronic pain took significantly less prescribed medications, such as opioids.
Arthritis: The use of CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical found in cannabis which can be extracted separately from psychoactive THC, has been shown in multiple studies to be effective in taking on arthritis pain and discomfort. A review article published in the journal, European Journal of Neuroscience, noted “promising results” and clear effects on inflammation, the source of much discomfort.4
Sleep: Disruptions in sleep are very common in older adults, especially those who are taking certain prescribed medications. Here too, cannabis has been shown to have a distinct effect. A study published in the journal, Chemistry & Biodiversity, noted “marked improvement” in the quality of sleep in patients with chronic pain problems.5 Cannabis is proving to be a safe alternative to sometimes addictive prescribed drugs.
The above is just some of what’s becoming an increasingly large body of evidence for cannabis as medicine. No doubt research in this vein will continue and our understanding will further expand.
Safe & sound
Another important aspect for seniors is that medicinal cannabis users tend to take less pharmaceutical drugs. Numerous studies point to that fact, especially in cases surrounding chronic pain and discomfort. Why is that important? Because, simply put, older adults are more likely to be on multiple medications, which can lead to negative drug interactions that interrupt sleep, affect mood, appetite, and motor skills, while sapping overall quality-of-life.
Finally, it’s important to note that smoking isn’t the only way to ingest this medicine. Cannabis—in both psychoactive and non-psychoactive forms—can be consumed as edibles, drops, or pills. Furthermore, it can be vaporized in the same way electronic cigarettes are, or even used topically for arthritis. Cannabis is a sound alternative to opioids, as use is manageable, and has minimal side-effects, which is in stark contrast to many pharmaceutical pills and medicines.
There’s value in exploring cannabis as medicine, no matter how old you are.
1 “Americans Who Smoke Marijuana By Age Group 2017 | Statistic”. 2018. Statista. Accessed December 5 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/737849/share-americans-age-group-smokes-marijuana/ 2 O’Neill, Stephanie. 2018. “Ticket To Ride: Pot Sellers Put Seniors On The Canna-Bus”. Npr.Org. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/09/17/648024454/ticket-to-ride-pot-sellers-put-seniors-on-the-canna-bus 3 Hill, Kevin P., Matthew D. Palastro, Brian Johnson, and Joseph W. Ditre. 2017. “Cannabis And Pain: A Clinical Review”. Cannabis And Cannabinoid Research 2 (1): 96-104. Mary Ann Liebert Inc. doi:10.1089/can.2017.0017 4 La Porta C, et al. 2018. “Involvement Of The Endocannabinoid System In Osteoarthritis Pain. – Pubmed – NCBI “. Ncbi.Nlm.Nih.Gov. Accessed December 5 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24494687 5 Russo, Ethan B., Geoffrey W. Guy, and Philip J. Robson. 2007. “Cannabis, Pain, And Sleep: Lessons From Therapeutic Clinical Trials Of Sativex®, A Cannabis-Based Medicine”. Chemistry & Biodiversity 38 (47). doi:10.1002/chin.200747254