Medical marijuana continues to be somewhat of a controversial, yet hot topic. And with legalization on the up and up, more are noticing and considering its use.
What’s more, the senior population and baby boomers are among the fastest-growing demographics turning to medical marijuana. In fact, the use of medical marijuana in adults aged 50 and older greatly increased based on a cross-sectional survey. People aged 65 and older also had a 250 percent increase in use!
Based on a University of Colorado study, older people who used cannabis for medical purposes reported positive outcomes. However, they highlighted difficulties in accessing medical cannabis. They also want information about cannabis and the desire to communicate with their healthcare providers.
But what are the benefits of medical marijuana? Does its use come with risks? How can the use of medical marijuana be openly discussed? Objective data regarding the uses and risks of medical marijuana for seniors is explored here.
How Does Medical Marijuana Work?
Defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is a “greenish-gray mixture of the dried, shredded leaves and flowers of Cannabis sativa, the hemp plant.”
The marijuana plant contains more than 100 compounds known as cannabinoids, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD being most common. THC is the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, responsible for causing the “high” effect. CBD, on the other hand, does not produce this intoxicating effect.
The body produces its own cannabinoids that are involved in appetite, memory, movement, and pain. Such properties spark the medical interest of the two primary cannabinoids found in marijuana.
What Is Medical Marijuana?
Also known as medical cannabis, medical marijuana is marijuana used to treat disease and/or ease its symptoms. Medical marijuana refers to using the entire plant or its basic extracts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved the marijuana plant as medicine. They have, however, approved three cannabinoids as drugs, including Epidiolex and the synthetic cannabinoids dronabinol and nabilone.
Epidiolex is an oral solution used to treat seizures linked to two rare, yet severe forms of childhood epilepsy. The synthetic cannabinoids, dronabinol and nabilone, help treat nausea and vomiting linked to cancer chemotherapy. With such benefits and positive outcomes of these drugs, researchers are continuing to explore more uses cannabinoids for medical treatment options.
But studying the impact of medical marijuana has been challenging. This is because the Drug Administration Enforcement (DEA) has labeled it as a Schedule I controlled substance. Fortunately, while this label makes the plant off-limits to study without a license, researching medical marijuana may soon get easier.
Obtaining and taking medical cannabis is becoming less of a challenge, and more popular, too.
How to Obtain and Take Medical Marijuana
Marijuana legalization has grown rampant in the United States, as medical marijuana is legal in 33 states currently. Despite legalization, though, there are steps one must take to obtain medical marijuana.
There are federal laws and each state has its own set of regulations, though all require certain doctor and patient forms. One must also have a diagnosed qualifying medical conditions such as cancer, psychiatric disorders, or terminal illness amongst the many. Following acceptance, a medical marijuana card is issued to use at marijuana dispensaries. The card must also be available when possessing cannabis.
Medical marijuana can be taken in many ways as well. Methods may be dictated by medical needs, budget, and physical abilities. It may also be a matter of preference. Some ways to consume medical marijuana include:
• Smoking it
• Inhaling through a vaporizer, which turns it into a mist
• Eating it such as in an edible brownie or chewable
• Applying it to the skin via lotion, spray, oil, or cream
• Dropping an extract under the tongue
Whatever method is chosen, it is important to consult a medical professional prior to taking medical marijuana. Discuss specifics on how much, type, when, and how often to use.
Medical Marijuana Benefits for Elderly
Medical marijuana appears to benefit a number of health conditions. It may also be safer and less expensive compared to prescription drugs.
Health Benefits of Medical Marijuana
Despite the challenges of studying medical marijuana, available data and personal endorsements suggest impressive health and medical benefits. These include:
• Reduces inflammation
• Eases anxiety and depressive symptoms
• Elevates mood and energy
• Relieves headaches and migraines
• Reduces convulsions and seizure occurrence
• Offers short and chronic pain relief
• Induces sedative effects
• Eases nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
• Kills cancer cells and slows tumor growth
• Relaxes tight muscles and spasms
• Stimulates appetite
• Ease symptoms tied to Parkinson’s disease
• Reduces eye pressure
Medical Marijuana vs. Prescription Drugs
Polypharmacy, or multiple prescription drug use, is a global risk factor for elderly people. The aging population is at greater risk for adverse drug reactions (ADRs) due to metabolic changes and reduced drug clearance.
These ADRs increase with the number of drugs used. Signs and symptoms of polypharmacy include sleepiness, bowel changes, incontinence, loss of appetite, depression, and tremors just to name a few.
Medical marijuana may cause side effects, too. These may include dry mouth, impaired cognition, dizziness, blurred vision, mood changes, and loss of balance. Chronic use of marijuana can increase the risk of mood disorders and lung cancer. However, medical marijuana is suggested to be a safer alternative with lesser risks of side effects and dependence.
Cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs seems to be effective, especially as an alternative to narcotics and opioids. This especially serves true if one suffers from pain, anxiety, and depression.
Medical marijuana may be more flexible and inexpensive than mainstream healthcare as well. But verifying if medical marijuana is cheaper than prescriptions depends on many factors. These include living location and the intended health condition(s) requiring management and treatment.
Marijuana and the Elderly: The Takeaway
All-in-all, research does show medical marijuana is safe and efficacious in the elderly population. The most common indications for cannabis in the elderly are pain and cancer, though use branches out to other conditions and symptoms. For instance, reported falls, a serious risk in older adults, have been shown to reduce following medical marijuana use.
Medical cannabis can also reduce the use of prescription medicines, including opioids, which often come with many side effects and risks. Taking medical marijuana may also be more cost-friendly than taking other medications to treat similar ailments.
Seniors likewise can take medical marijuana to best fit their comfort levels and personal preferences. If interested in medical marijuana personally or for a loved one, consult with a doctor. They can guide the right steps for proper and safe use of medical cannabis.