Older Americans Are Flocking to Medical Marijuana

Older Americans Are Flocking to Medical Marijuana


Notes: “People in their 80s and 90s, even retired Air Force colonels, are finding such relief” with cannabis, said Ms. Horne. “Almost everybody I know is using it in one form or another” — including her husband Hal, 68, a retired insurance broker, who says it helps him sleep.

In fact, so many Laguna Woods seniors use medical cannabis — for ailments ranging from arthritis and diabetes nerve pain to back injuries and insomnia — that the local dispensary, Bud and Bloom, charters a free bus to bring residents to its Santa Ana location to stock up on supplies. Along with a catered lunch, the bus riders get a seniors discount.

Physicians who treat older adults expect their cannabis use to increase as the number of states legalizing medical marijuana keeps growing.

People aged 50 to 64 are more likely to report recent marijuana use than their elders.

But the researchers are uneasy about the fact that older people essentially are undertaking self-treatment, with scant guidance from medical professionals.

Cannabis consumers face a confusing array of options, including various strains and brands and many methods of ingestion: smoking, vaping, tinctures, edibles, topical creams or patches. Users can also experience potentially harmful side effects.

The strongest case, Dr. Casarett said, is that cannabis can reduce neuropathic pain, sometimes caused by diabetes, shingles or chemotherapy, without the toxic effects of opioids.

Studies have also shown that cannabis alleviates the nausea and vomiting that often follows chemotherapy. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two synthetic T.H.C. drugs for that purpose, though some patients insist that smoking the real thing works better.

Cannabis appears to relieve muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis, though that research is less extensive, and to improve appetite for patients with cancer or AIDS, Dr. Briscoe said.

“Plenty of patients swear it’s the only thing that helps them sleep,” he added. But while drowsiness often accompanies cannabis use, the evidence that it reliably improves sleep remains modest. Its effects on anxiety and depression are also unclear.

And like any drug, cannabis has side effects, some of particular concern for older users, who metabolize medications differently from younger adults.

Dizziness, for instance, can lead to injurious falls. Marijuana use is also associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, so Dr. Casarett and Dr. Briscoe advise counseling older patients not to drive for six to nine hours after use, depending on ingestion method.”

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