Cannabis has gained popularity as an alternative to opiates for the treatment of pain in seniors.
Research has shown that 50 percent of older adults who live on their own and 75-85 percent of the elderly in care facilities suffer from chronic pain. Pain affects a person's mood, memory, relationships, and overall quality of life. Constant aches can cause frustration, depression, anxiety, anger, social isolation, poor sleep, and related complications. A growing number of the elderly are also becoming addicted to prescription painkillers.
People over the age of 65 years comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet account for more than one-third of total outpatient spending on prescription pain medications in the United States. With the increase in pain medication prescriptions, there has been an increase in associated health problems. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospitalizations for opioid overuse has increased most sharply among Americans ages 45 to 85 and beyond, with rates rising more than fivefold between 1993 and 2012.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reports;
"In states where it is legal to use medical marijuana to manage chronic pain and other conditions, the annual number of deaths from prescription drug overdose is 25 percent lower than in states where medical marijuana remains illegal."
Project CBD Director Martin Lee;
"Marijuana has been seen as a 'gateway' drug for sometime. For elderly pain patients, who get trapped in the frenzy of an opiate addiction, cannabis can potentially be an exit drug. In a country that consumes 80 percent of the world's opioids, that's important."
Said Care By Design spokesperson, Nick Caston;
"Our goal in this survey is to explore how cannabis compares to other medications and to instigate research into the use of cannabis therapeutic for pain management."
Interest in the medicinal use of cannabis and cannabinoids is mounting worldwide.
Fueled by enthusiastic media coverage, patients perceive cannabinoids as a natural remedy for many symptoms.
Cannabinoid use is of particular interest for older individuals who may experience symptoms such as chronic pain, sleep disturbance, cancer-related symptoms and mood disorders, all of which are often poorly controlled by current drug treatments that may also incur medication-induced side effects.
Data collected by Strainprint on patients 65 years and older revealed that they were using cannabis for 5 common symptoms:
This review provides a summary of the evidence for use of cannabinoids, and medical cannabis in particular, for this age group, with attention to efficacy and harms. Evidence of efficacy for relief of an array of symptoms is overall scanty, and almost all study participants are aged < 60 years.
The risk of known and potential adverse effects is considerable, with concerns for cognitive, cardiovascular and gait and stability effects in older adults.
Although recent data on the number of Canadian seniors using cannabis are unavailable, Health Canada figures for 2013 showed that two-thirds of Canadians registered to purchase medical marijuana were taking it to treat severe arthritis, more common among older adults.
According to Health Canada, by the end of 2016, almost 130,000 Canadians had signed up with the country's 38 licensed cannabis producers (Canadian Press, 2017). Yet, there is still considerable stigma among older people for using cannabis to relieve a variety of symptoms that they may experience.
With the legalization of recreational cannabis, and the potential legalization of cannabis edibles soon afterwards, older Canadians may be less hesitant to try cannabis as the "reefer madness" stigma fades...