Due to long-term damage to their bodies, older people will always have more health issues than younger people. It’s a part of life. Most health-care costs are borne by the elderly. Taking multiple prescription drugs is common, often with many side effects attached. Medical marijuana might help older people to combat their ailments without experiencing any nasty side effects.
Pain management is a common reason for older people needing medication, but the two main classes of pain relievers have some pretty severe side effects. NSAIDs, which most over-the-counter pain relievers are classified as, are damaging to the liver and stop working with chronic use. Over time, the dosage gets so high that the side effects and risks outweigh the benefits.
When patients reach this point, their doctors often reach for opioids. But opioids are addictive and also lose efficiency over time. Stronger and stronger medication is needed to dull the pain. By the time patients are deep into old age, they may be out of options that won’t cause further harm or dependency.
Fortunately, there may be a better way to help older people with their ailments than regular prescription drugs. Medical marijuana works with the body’s endocannabinoid system to provide a host of health benefits. Some promising studies have been conducted on how cannabis can help with chronic health conditions. Here are a few facts that scientists have discovered.
Doctors and older people approve of medical marijuana
In 2013, a survey that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that 80 percent of doctors approve of medical marijuana and that more than 90 percent of the 7,500 surveyed patients said that they experienced an improvement in their condition. Seniors represented just under one-third of that group.
The survey also showed that healthy individuals weren’t overusing cannabis when they needed it for occasional use, such as for migraine treatment. Like regular pain relievers, you can take it as needed. You just need to turn on your dry herb vaporizer.
Medical marijuana as chronic disease treatment
A study that was released this year by the American Academy of Neurology found that medical marijuana helps with pain, sleep disorders and anxiety resulting from chronic illnesses. These illnesses include neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord damage, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The study looked at 204 people with an average age of 81. The group took tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the core cannabinoids that are found in marijuana, via a vape pen or through tinctures at various ratios. The participants took medicine for an average of four months and had regular checkups.
Related: The Effects of CBD on the Human Body
About 69 percent of the people reported improvement in their symptoms. Furthermore, 32 percent of the participants were able to reduce their usage of opioid medications. Unlike opioids and NSAIDs, marijuana has not been shown to have long-term adverse effects on the body with chronic use. For pain management in the elderly, marijuana may be the best option.
However, a small percentage of the patients reported excessive sleepiness, balance problems or gastrointestinal issues from taking the cannabis medication. The researchers said that the marijuana-based treatments were ‘well-tolerated’. Some patients were helped when the ratio of THC to CBD was adjusted. More research is needed to find the optimum mix, but the participants preferred a 1:1 rate of these two substances.
How cannabis helps with Alzheimer’s disease
THC has also shown promise in treating a disease that affects 10 percent of seniors: Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2014, a preclinical study used THC on the beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of this disease. THC slowed the growth of the plates. However, studies on how marijuana affects Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia still need to be performed.
The decades of marijuana prohibition have prevented scientists from studying medical marijuana more closely. But, now that the ban is getting lifted in states across the world, scientists are discovering numerous medical benefits locked inside the once-maligned drug. As funding and greater legal access improve, marijuana may soon be a regular part of any gerontologist’s tool kit.