Is cannabis having a senior moment? It appears so, as cannabis use among seniors is on the rise, with many older adults turning to this ancient plant for relief from a variety of discomforts. As the aging process brings about numerous physical and mental health challenges, some seniors find that exploring the wellness effects of cannabis brings them some hope and comfort [1]. This article explores the potential advantages of cannabis for seniors, highlighting the latest research, the risks, and expert opinions on this burgeoning topic.

Understanding cannabis

Hemp and marijuana, both derived from the cannabis plant, contain active compounds such as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and/or CBD (cannabidiol). Individuals consume cannabis through various methods, including smoking, vaping, edibles, tinctures, and topicals. While recreational cannabis use remains controversial in some circles, medical cannabis has gained widespread acceptance for its potential to promote wellness [2].

Potential wellness benefits of cannabis for seniors

Chronic pain is a common issue among older adults, often stemming from conditions like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or neuropathic pain. Though its efficacy is not yet proven to treat these conditions, cannabis has shown promise in improving the quality of life for some seniors. Studies regarding the effects of cannabis on pain and other conditions are ongoing, focusing primarily on its interaction with the central nervous system and the endocannabinoid system [3].

Sleep disturbances are also prevalent in the senior population, sometimes exacerbated by age-related changes and medical conditions. In some studies, cannabis use has shown promise in helping individuals relax, arguably a prerequisite for achieving a more restful and restorative sleep [1]. Though cannabis may help calm and relax some individuals, it affects others differently. Thus, it’s important for seniors with sleep disturbances to consult a healthcare professional for guidance.

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Does cannabis affect anxiety and depression in seniors?

Mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are significant concerns for older adults. For some seniors, the use of cannabis has shown promise in uplifting mood, offering a potential alternative to traditional mood-altering prescription medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, cannabis can potentially help modulate mood in some individuals [4]. However, cannabis does not have this effect on everyone. For example, THC can cause anxiety in some individuals [5]. Thus, it’s crucial to consult a medical professional for appropriate guidance.

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Appetite stimulation

Maintaining a healthy appetite is vital for seniors, particularly those undergoing treatments like chemotherapy or dealing with chronic illnesses. Notably, the FDA has approved THC-based prescription medications for chemotherapy-induced nausea, including dronabinol (Marinol®) and nabilone (Cesamet®) [6]. Various other cannabinoid medications are currently being studied for use in treating cancer or related symptoms. However, whether cannabis stimulates appetite or not is a question for which researchers continue to seek answers [7]. Ultimately,  it’s crucial for older adults to maintain a balanced diet to remain healthy.

The best cannabis products for overall wellness

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Does cannabis offer real relief?

Arthritis

Arthritis affects millions of seniors, causing pain and limiting mobility. Some sufferers find that cannabis helps them navigate the hurdles. However, evidence is inconclusive regarding how effective cannabis may be in reducing inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Even so, researchers hope to illuminate ways in which cannabis might provide a natural alternative to over-the-counter pain relievers [8].

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia pose significant challenges to cognitive functioning and quality of life for seniors. Some studies suggest that cannabis may have neuroprotective properties. Though it’s currently unclear whether cannabis could slow the progression of cognitive decline in these conditions, future research may continue to shed light on how cannabinoids affect the brains of aging individuals. While more research is needed, early findings have found potential benefits in animal models [9].

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Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in older adults. According to early studies, cannabis may temporarily be helpful [10]. However, ophthalmologists warn that cannabis can not cure glaucoma and may not be appropriate for some individuals [11]. Thus, patients with glaucoma should follow the advice of a physician for appropriate and safe treatment.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating condition characterized by muscle spasticity and pain. Though studies are inconclusive and ongoing, cannabis has been a primary subject of research as a method of fighting this devious affliction. [12].

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Risks and considerations

Potential side effects

While cannabis offers numerous benefits, seniors must consider potential side effects. These can include dizziness, dry mouth, and impaired motor skills. Also, long-term cannabis users may experience structural brain integrity changes, particularly if usage begins in young adulthood. Also, with heavy smoking, individuals may develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cardiovascular issues [13].

Drug interactions

Cannabis can interact with other substances, including prescription medications, alcohol, and other drugs [14]. For this reason, seniors should consult with healthcare providers to ensure safe use and avoid adverse interactions.

Dosage and administration

Proper dosing is critical to maximize benefits and minimize risks. For example, seniors who choose to use cannabis should start with low doses and gradually increase as needed. CBD products, which do not produce a high, may be preferable for some older adults [15].

Consultation with healthcare providers

Discussing cannabis use with healthcare providers is essential. Providers can offer guidance on dosage and potential interactions and monitor for substance use disorders, including cannabis use disorder.

Personal stories and testimonials

Real-life examples of seniors benefiting from cannabis use provide compelling evidence of its potential. For example, stories from older cannabis users who have found relief and enhanced mental health illustrate the plant’s versatility and potential efficacy [1]. Yet, not all seniors experience these benefits from cannabis. Hence, seniors should approach cannabis with caution and weigh both the benefits and risks.

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Expert opinions

Healthcare professionals specializing in geriatric care offer valuable insights into the use of cannabis for seniors. Their expertise can help bridge the gap between traditional medicine and emerging treatments.

Future research and developments

Ongoing studies

The landscape of cannabis research is rapidly evolving, with ongoing studies exploring its effects on various medical conditions. For instance, randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews continue to shed light on the efficacy and safety of cannabis use in older adults.

Innovations in cannabis products

The development of new cannabis-based treatments, including non-psychoactive options like CBD, will expand the range of therapeutic options available to seniors. These innovations hold promise for improving the quality of life for aging populations [16].

Key takeaway: cannabis in aging

Cannabis presents a promising potential wellness option for addressing the complex needs of seniors. While more research is needed to fully understand its effects, the potential benefits of cannabis are significant. However, seniors considering cannabis use should consult with healthcare providers to ensure safe and effective treatment, paving the way for improved health and well-being in their golden years.

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Medical Disclaimer / Legal Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice or medical advice. We attempt to be accurate and up-to-date, but the legality of cannabinoids and the science of cannabis are evolving. The author is neither a legal professional nor a medical expert. Before buying or using any products, you should check with your local authorities and medical providers.

References

  1. Seniors Are Embracing Marijuana, Which Offers Relief — And Risk
  2. ‘Increasing Cultural Acceptance Of Cannabis,’ Federal Study Finds
  3. Medical Marijuana for Seniors: Weighing the Risks, Benefits and Out-of-Pocket Costs
  4. Cannabis Use for Anxiety Among Older Adults
  5. Cannabis-Induced Anxiety Disorder in the Emergency Department
  6. Cannabinoids in Treating Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting, Cancer-Associated Pain, and Tumor Growth
  7. Helping Appetite Issues for Seniors with Medical Marijuana
  8. Medical Cannabis for Arthritis
  9. Review of the Neurological Benefits of Phytocannabinoids
  10. Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol Differentially Regulate Intraocular Pressure
  11. Is Marijuana a Treatment for Glaucoma?
  12. The Efficacy of Cannabis on Multiple Sclerosis-Related Symptoms
  13. Cleveland Clinic: Marijuana, Cannabis, Weed
  14. Drug Interactions with Cannabinoids
  15. A Guide to Cannabis Use for Older Adults
  16. The Age of Cannabis Has Arrived: Issues for Older Adults
  17. Potential Benefits and Risks of Cannabis

Frequently Asked Questions

Cannabis use among older adults has been increasing. For example, according to cross-sectional surveys, cannabis use in older adults has risen significantly in recent years, reflecting changing attitudes and increased acceptance [1].

Yes, cannabis dependence and substance use disorder are important considerations for all age groups, including older adults. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual outlines criteria for cannabis use disorder, which can impact mental health conditions and cognitive performance. While cannabis use may offer benefits, it is crucial to monitor for signs of dependency and substance use disorders. Therefore, public health officials and healthcare providers recommend that older adults discuss their cannabis use with medical professionals. This dialogue can help seniors manage potential risks and ensure cannabis use does not interfere with treatments [13].

The effects of cannabis use on cognitive function in older adults can vary. For example, research suggests that cannabis may impact executive cognitive functions and overall cognitive performance [9]. While some older adults report benefits such as improved mood, others may experience cognitive deficits or changes in memory [17]. Therefore, older adults should consider the range of potential effects and consult with healthcare providers before consuming cannabis.