Marijuana has become widely known for its medicinal benefits in recent years with over 30 states legalizing for medicinal purposes. Users report relief from chronic pain, nausea, digestive problems, and sleeping complaints among many other issues, all with reduced side effects and more efficiency than prescription medication. It’s no wonder the senior community has caught on to the benefits and joined other patients across the country in relieving the pain of many conditions using marijuana. The number of seniors over 65 who have been using the plant for medicinal purposes has doubled in recent years. Between 2013 and 2016, the number went from 1.4 percent to 3 percent, showing a steady increase in users.
The Rise in Senior Use
A study that came out of the University of Florida has shed some light on how senior citizens are using the plant. It would appear that the most common reasons for their use of marijuana include chronic pain and cancer-related issues. Along with its common use for treating anxiety, depression, PTSD, digestive issues and sleeping issues, there are many potential reasons a senior may be drawn to the plant. Many marijuana users also report it has decreased or even eliminated the need for opioid based prescription drugs, which have severe side effects and cause thousands of overdoses each year.
Cannabis Studies Focused on Elderly Patients
There is preliminary evidence to suggest that marijuana may play a role in treating or even preventing degenerative disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done before a clear understanding of its potential use can be uncovered, understood and utilized. A study published in the the European Journal of Internal Medicine by Israeli researchers found that 93.7 of patients reported medicinal improvements after six months of marijuana-based treatment. Authors of the study conclude; “Our study finds that the therapeutic use of cannabis is safe and efficacious in the elderly population. Cannabis use may decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids. Gathering more evidence-based data, including data from double-blind randomized-controlled trials, in this special population is imperative.”
Challenges to Marijuana Research
While many studies have been done around the world that show the medicinal value of marijuana, they have not been officially sanctioned by the U.S. government. Marijuana continues to be an illegal substance by federal law. It is classified a Schedule I substance, putting it in the highest risk category for abuse, alongside heroin and LSD. The classification also indicates that it has no medicinal value and is unsafe to be tested on humans. For this reason, study of the plant to ascertain what medicinal benefits it could have and in what strains, dosage and methods, have been blocked. Many U.S. senators joined together to ask the DEA to change the clearly outdated marijuana classification. The DEA refused but issued a statement in August 2016, saying that they would be willing to permit government approved medical testing to begin. Unfortunately, the studies have been blocked by the Trump administration.
Nonetheless, there are still many U.S. and international studies that can give us an indication of how the plant may be of medicinal benefit to seniors. The study estimates that by 2026, 24 percent of seniors will be using marijuana for medicinal purposes.