Today’s senior citizens grew up in an age when cannabis was better known as a “gateway drug,” a trigger of insanity (as illustrated by the 1936 film Reefer Madness) or at worst, “evil weed.” This generation bore the brunt of cannabis controversy and is perhaps the most misinformed about medical use. Ironically, they may also be the most in need.
On the other hand, the 65-and-older crowd has become the fastest-growing population of medical cannabis patients, as more turn to alternative medicine to replace traditional prescriptions. Clearly, some have found that cannabis works well. Will those who don’t yet appreciate its medical benefits join them? And will the growth of this group of older patients continue?
Medical Cannabis and Senior Patients: The Good and the Bad
Seniors face a variety of conditions as they age. Arthritis, osteoporosis, lack of appetite, depression, and insomnia can be chronic and debilitating. Traditional treatments have included opioids and antidepressants, but these drugs bring side effects, and that's got many patients increasingly ready to give up on the meds. Many are especially wary because of cost uncertainty and a raging opioid epidemic.
The good news is that many people have found relief in cannabis, to which these ailments are especially responsive. According to a New York University study of 47,140 people aged 65 and older, cannabis use became 250 percent more prevalent in this age group between 2012 and 2013 alone. Another study showed some states’ medical marijuana programs have seen a huge increase in applications from people over 60.
Now for the bad news: Some seniors who are open to the benefits of medical cannabis face barriers to access. Even among the 29 states that have legalized medical use, a few, like New York, are restrictive and expensive. For one thing, too few doctors are licensed to prescribe cannabis or willing to touch a drug unapproved by the federal government (it’s still classed as a Schedule 1) for liability reasons. For another, Medicare doesn’t cover medical cannabis treatment. And even without the legal or financial drag, social stigma can still make some patients feel too embarrassed to visit a dispensary.
It’s no wonder some patients are still reluctant to try cannabis. But the positives are undeniable, and as more and more people start seeing the health benefits — this could be what ultimately tips the scale.
Curious about Medical Cannabis Treatment? Here’s What You Should Know
As more people now realize, cannabis isn’t just a way to “get high,” or go mad. These were scare tactics used in 20th century prohibition propaganda that kept potential medical cannabis patients sick, not safe. Scientific evidence and advancements in the industry have now shown cannabis to be:
- A safe and effective medication. Studies have proven cannabis beneficial to so many conditions that it would be quicker to list the ones it doesn’t treat, but to give you an idea, cannabis can provide relief from issues such as chronic pain, anxiety, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, nausea, insomnia, and the side effects of cancer treatment.
- Safer than traditional prescriptions. The side effects of cannabis are insignificant compared to those of many prescription drugs, some of which have been known to lead to physical dependence or fatal overdose. By contrast, studies show there is no such thing as a fatal cannabis overdose or major withdrawal symptoms. People who go “cold turkey” after daily cannabis use liken the feeling to quitting coffee.
- Available in many forms and strains. For those who feel uncomfortable with the idea of smoking their medicine, cannabis can be consumed in other ways, including ingestion (using tinctures, oils, or cannabis-infused foods) or skin absorption (using topicals). Cannabis also comes in different strains, each with their own personality: some high in CBD and low in THC (providing medical relief without the high), more energizing than relaxing (or vice versa), or more beneficial for certain conditions than others.
- Increasingly affordable. Experts believe that widespread cannabis legalization has not only led to a drop in Medicare prescriptions, but could make cannabis cheaper.
We need more research to understand the trends and benefits of medical cannabis use among older patients and to dispel stubborn myths. Researchers hope that news of cannabis’s health benefits becomes more widespread as the world continues to normalize and legalize cannabis. As long as patients are better informed, they will be more comfortable about exploring cannabis’ potential.