Cannabis and Seniors

Cannabis and Seniors Smoking
By Alice Blunt

When many people think of cannabis users, the first image that comes to mind is of young people – teenagers or young adults – enjoying edibles at a concert or smoking a joint at a party.  It therefore may be surprising to learn that in the United States, the population experiencing signifincant increases in cannabis use is the older set, those fifty years and up.  The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers found that cannabis use in this segment of the population increased about 250 percent from 2006 to 2013.  Why is pot use among seniors on the rise?  Are there special considerations that those on the golden side of the age spectrum may need to consider before hopping aboard the pot bandwagon?

Regardless of how eager or hesitant you might be to try cannabis for therapeutic reasons, most people are at least a bit cautious regarding the laws in their particular region.

This recently updated resource on medical marijuana laws can help you figure out the next safe and legal steps in acquiring medical marijuana or CBD to help treat your symptoms.

Medical Marijuana: Many Uses Among Seniors

The majority of the rise in marijuana use among seniors is due to a rise in medical marijuana being increasingly availabile. Many medical issues and symptoms that marijuana is said to have the potential to treat are those the senior population encounters on a more regular basis than younger folk do. These symptoms may include lack of appetite, anxiety, pain, eye pressure, and muscle spasms. In addition, many medical users report that arthritis, nerve damage and the normal aches and pains of growing older can all be relieved with the right strain of medical marijuana. 

Seniors also gravitate towards marijuana for medical use because it is said to have the potential to possibly enhance or even replace other medications for conditions such as pain management and insomnia.  In general, seniors are more likely than the rest of the population to take multiple prescriptions, which can be challenging to manage as health conditions worsen and, in some cases, memory loss develops.  Therefore, since cannabis has the anecdotal potential to cut down on that list of prescriptions with minimal side effects is worth noting. Also, many experts and longtime medical users argue cannabis does not have the addictive qualities of opioids or the severe side effects of many antipsychotic drugs, further enhancing its suitability for senior medical use.

Marijuana as the “Happy Drug”

You know how some strains of marijuana are known to promote the giggles and a “happy high”?  This can be especially good news for seniors, who are said to be at a greater risk for social isolation. Instead of suffering a decline in health, seniors who use marijuana can experience elevated moods and increased motivation to do the things they love to do.  Even the typically friendly nature of marijuana ingestion – sharing a bowl of bud among friends or passing around a joint before a movie – helps increase that social factor important in fighting negative mood. 

And as for “he who laughs, lasts”?  Some surprising proven health benefits of laughter include increased immune systems functioning, protection for the heart, decreased stress levels, decreased levels of pain and relaxed muscles.  Also, research shows that laughter increases life span, so those seniors who are giggling from marijuana use may be around longer to enjoy their happy life.

Risks for Seniors Using Cannabis

However, not all the reported outcomes of seniors using cannabis are rosy.  Doctors in Canada have noted that some elderly patients who use cannabis experience an increase in delirium, a type of confusion common in advanced age.  Also, some strains are known to increase feelings of drowsiness and dizziness, which is especially bad news for people who are already a bit unstable on their feet.  Doctors worry these strains could contribute to falls in elderly patients. 

Due to these concerns, it is typical for doctors to prescribe marijuana to seniors at lower doses then they would for younger people, and modifying as needed.  Also, some doctors claim that using a vaporizer or ingesting cannabis orally are the best methods for seniors, as these tend to deliver the drug in less potent and sudden fashion.

The Need for More Research

The federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug in the United States hampers serious research on its effects on seniors (or on any other segment of the population, for that matter).  Even in Canada, medical marijuana has not gone through the same rigorous testing that regular pharmaceutical drugs have. Therefore, seniors interested in using marijuana for medical reasons should talk with their doctor to determine if marijuana could be beneficial for their specific issues or ailments. While it can still take some hunting to find a doctor willing to recommend or prescribe weed, for some, the natural benefits are well worth the effort.

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