Medical Marijuana and Seniors, Part 2: Things You Should Know

In our previous post, Part One of our two-part series concerning seniors and medical marijuana, we explored the increasing use of cannabis among our aging populations.

As laws across the nation continue to change (allowing individuals safe and legal access to its myriad therapeutic benefits), and prior to considering it for themselves, it is important that both patients and their caregivers have a more complete picture of marijuana—one that extends beyond its oft depicted “bad boy” image as a dangerous, gateway drug.

With that said, prior to diving into Part Two of our primer, as always, we would like to impress on our readers that it is always best to consult a doctor first before making any changes to an individual’s treatment plan.

The Benefits

One of the conditions cannabis is most notable for helping treat is epilepsy, which we touched on in the last post. But the benefits don’t just end there. There are dozens of diseases and disorders (or their symptoms) that have been shown to improve with medical marijuana. Here are just a handful:

 

  • Cancer
    It’s one of the reasons medical marijuana laws were first passed in California in the 90’s. The ability of cannabis to alleviate many of the deleterious effects of chemotherapy, especially pain and nausea, seems nothing short of miraculous. But there’s more. Research has shown the marijuana can not only kill cancer cells, but also prevent its spread.
     
  • Chronic pain
    There’s a fascinating bit of science behind the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis, but sadly we don’t have the requisite space to dive into it. Many seniors suffer from debilitating pain from a variety of conditions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Arthritis, nerve pain, and fibromyalgia are all conditions that seniors are experiencing relief from with the ingestion of cannabis. Its two most notable compounds, THC and CBD, both have been shown to inhibit proinflammatory molecules in our bodies, working together with our endogenous opioid systems to reduce pain.
  • Parkinson’s
    It’s one of the most astonishing videos on the internet. A man named Larry, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, is seen with severe tremor dyskinesia. He struggles to speak, telling someone off camera that it’s been a rough week. He’s advised to take a single droplet of a cannabis-infused tincture, the first time this former police captain has ever tried such a thing. After rubbing it beneath his tongue, and on his inner cheeks, he lies back on a couch. Four minute later, he sits up, a smile breaking across his face. “So quickly,” he says. His tremors are gone, and for the first time in a long while, he can speak in a clear and controlled voice.
  • Glaucoma
    It’s estimated that more than 3 million Americans suffer from glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve that can lead to a progressive and irreversible loss of vision. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Though clinical trials have been few, many patients have reported a marked decrease in intraocular pressure following the inhalation of cannabis, while other have found relief from CBD-infused eye drops.
  • Sleep
    You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy dessert. With the medical marijuana industry in the midst of a massive boom, one of the most popular forms of ingestion is in the form of edibles. Pot brownies might seem like something of a joke, but in fact countless seniors are turning to their nightly “something sweet” as a way to relax and induce sleepiness. Individuals who’d previously suffered from insomnia have reported that cannabis not only gives them the ability to sleep through the night, but makes it so that they don’t feel groggy in the morning—unlike many users of sleeping pills.
  • Eating disorders
    It’s common for individuals to lose their appetites as they age (especially in conjunction with #7 on this list). Startlingly, a 2014 study by the CDC revealed that 78% of anorexia-related deaths were of seniors. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. It’s usually a punchline in a film, but the “munchies” is a real phenomenon. Cannabis can give seniors their appetite back, and allow them to enjoy food once more. 
  • Depression and Anxiety
    There’s a rising epidemic among our assisted living population, and it’s not always obvious. Depression and anxiety, among other mental health disorders, can be crippling. As we age, and our bodies break down, it’s not surprising that our mental health takes a turn for the worst. Grappling with these changes is difficult, and can really take a toll on our inner lives. Many who are diagnosed with anxiety or depression may choose to go on antidepressants, but that’s not always the right course of action for everyone, considering the side effects that come along with it. Cannabis has been shown to improve people’s mood, and alleviate symptoms of both anxiety and depression, offering up a viable alternative psychiatric medications.

Things You Should Know

It’s understandable that people might be hesitant to try marijuana as a part of their treatment plan, but much of this leeriness is likely to stem from common misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana will neither lower your IQ or cause brain damage. In fact, in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, cannabis has been shown to actually prevent brain cell death.

A lot of individuals are also concerned that cannabis is physically addictive. Unlike the opiates or sleeping pills that many seniors take, this is untrue. And, since there are hundreds of different “strains” of marijuana currently being cultivated, it’s easy to find relief without the high, depending on one’s personal preference.

Overall, and despite not being covered by medical plans, cannabis is safer and more cost effective than prescription drugs, while also coming in a wider variety of forms. While cannabis does exist in capsule form, many opt for one of the other methods of ingestion. In addition to smoking it, marijuana can be added to food and consumed (in the form of edibles), vaporized, rubbed into the skin, or taken orally in the form of droplets. The many different methods of receiving relief means that individuals can customize their personal treatment plans to suit their own physical needs and tastes.

Moving Forward

If one of the individuals in your care has recently expressed an interest in trying medical marijuana for themselves, the process of doing so is fairly straightforward, with countless resource online to guide them along the way.

That said, given that cannabis is still illegal on the federal level, insurance companies are hesitant to cover its use (or consultations specifically for its use). These does mean that all expenses will be out-of-pocket, though in the long run medical marijuana is often much less expensive than treatments traditionally covered by health plans.

We understand that marijuana, despite it being legal here in California, can be a controversial subject, but in the interest of furthering knowledge, we wanted to take the time to talk about the ways others are finding relief. Because ultimately, that education is what we are all about.