The Washington, D.C.-based National Council for Aging Care recently released its complete guide to medical marijuana for seniors, advising those in their golden years on the benefits of alternative medication.
The report recaps a brief history, including marijuana’s legal use before the 20th century, followed by state bans of marijuana and hemp that began around 1910. Perhaps the peak of the stigma surrounding the medicinal plant occurred under President Nixon, who signed the Controlled Substances Act, which placed marijuana alongside heroin and cocaine as a Schedule I illegal substance.
Because of its Schedule I status, U.S. research institutions are not able to conduct clinical trials on the medical benefits of cannabis. As such, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot approve cannabis for medicinal use. The only drug derived from natural cannabis that is FDA-approved is Epidiolex, a CBD-based seizure medication from British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals.
The council’s report then details the early days of medical marijuana use in the U.S., which began almost 20 years ago starting with cannabis legalization in California. The focus of the report is to advise seniors on medical-grade marijuana, outlining the benefits of the more than 100 cannabinoids, particularly THC and CBD for treating a whole range of medical issues.
Medical marijuana is legal in thirty states, including the District of Columbia. A recent report by New Frontier Data expects that number to rise within the next few years.
The report quotes a Washington Post survey, where, of 7,500 patients questioned, more than 90 percent reported that medical marijuana helped their conditions; more than 2,300 of the respondents were seniors, by far the study’s largest group. In fact, from 2006 to 2013, senior cannabis use rose by 250 percent.
Seniors view cannabis as much more cost effective and safer than many prescription drugs, particularly when compared to opioids for pain. Although they comprise less than 15 percent of the population, seniors take more than 33 percent of all prescription medications. With the average senior spending $3,000 on prescriptions each year, it’s no wonder they are turning to the much cheaper $650-per-year medical marijuana alternative.
Nationwide polls indicate that the number one ailment for which people use medical marijuana is pain, and since nearly all seniors will experience pain in their later years, they feel they have nothing to lose. Since cannabis no longer has to be smoked to reap the benefits, seniors are embracing topical, edibles and other forms of cannabis ingestion. Indeed, there is an increasing body of evidence showing that cannabinoids from the plant are effective for arthritic pain, nerve damage, and pain from cancer.
The report details further promising studies that show medical marijuana’s usefulness in sleep disorders and insomnia, cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, eating disorders and mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In one detailed example, the report outlined marijuana’s use as an appetite stimulant in eating disorders, which greatly affect the elderly. Nearly 80 percent of anorexia-induced deaths each year occur among the elderly, who simply lose the desire to eat. The alternative treatment to eating disorders is typically harsh medications like antidepressants or even antipsychotic medications. Many patients and their doctors view medical cannabis as a far better alternative treatment.
The report strives to give evidence of the latest research studies and presents the pros and cons of medical cannabis use. While many people use medical marijuana for anxiety, some users (about 20 to 30 percent) say that its use makes them more anxious.
One of the most significant issues in the elderly population is cognitive decline, and the report details how even small amounts of THC can boost brain function in animals studied.