Medical cannabis therapy can significantly reduce chronic pain in patients age 65 and older without adverse effects, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Cannabis Clinical Research Institute at Soroka University Medical Center.
The new study, published in The European Journal of Internal Medicine, found cannabis therapy is safe and efficacious for elderly patients who are seeking to address cancer symptoms, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and other medical issues.
"While older patients represent a large and growing population of medical cannabis users, few studies have addressed how it affects this particular group, which also suffers from dementia, frequent falls, mobility problems, and hearing and visual impairments," says Prof. Victor Novack, M.D., a professor of medicine in the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences (FOHS), and head of the Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute. Novack is also the BGU Gussie Krupp Chair in Internal Medicine.
"After monitoring patients 65 and older for six months, we found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported."
This older population represents a growing segment of medical cannabis users, ranging from approximately seven percent to more than 33 percent, depending on the country. Recent U.S. polls indicate Americans over 65 represent 14 percent of the total population and use more than 30 percent of all prescription drugs, including highly addictive painkillers.
BGU researchers surveyed 2,736 patients 65 years and older who received medical cannabis through "Tikun Olam," the largest Israeli medical cannabis supplier. More than 60 percent were prescribed medical cannabis due to the pain, particularly pain associated with cancer. After six months of treatment, more than 93 percent of 901 respondents reported their pain dropped from a median of eight to four on a 10-point scale. Close to 60 percent of patients who originally reported "bad" or "very bad" quality of life upgraded to "good" or "very good" after six months. More than 70 percent of patients surveyed reported moderate to significant improvement in their condition.
The most commonly reported adverse effects were dizziness (9.7 percent) and dry mouth (7.1 percent). After six months, more than 18 percent of patients surveyed had stopped using opioid analgesics or had reduced their dosage.
What Senior Citizens Should Know about Medical Cannabis
For decades, marijuana was portrayed in the media merely as an illegal drug used to get people high, and the people who use marijuana as no more than drug addicts and hippies seeking a desperate measure to detach from reality. Senior citizens grew up during a time when marijuana was illegal in the United States and in most countries around the Globe. Accordingly, the golden generation may perhaps be the most misinformed about marijuana, yet, ironically, might also be the age demographic that benefits the most from this natural plant. Below are 10 things senior citizens should know about medical marijuana.
1. Marijuana is SAFER than many commonly prescribed medications
Most seniors take prescription drugs on a daily basis. The “side effects” of marijuana are insignificant in comparison to the side effects of many prescription drugs, and not a single person has ever died from a marijuana overdose. An ongoing 30-year study found that a person weighing 140 pounds would have to consume over 4 pounds of marijuana in one sitting to reach toxic levels, and that still would not be a fatal dosage. The powerful anti-oxidant effects of marijuana can provide relief for many disorders including liver inflammation from Hepatitis C, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other serious medical conditions that all involve inflammation and oxidative damage.
2. Marijuana is not physically addictive
Many seniors fear that if they start using marijuana they will become addicted. People can use marijuana daily and then stop “cold turkey”. Discontinuing the use of marijuana has much the same response as quitting the consumption of coffee. Many people who seek welcome and effective respite from chronic pain, anxiety, and stress use marijuana as a daily medicine.
3. Marijuana can reduce and possibly replace many prescription medications
A major complaint of seniors regarding their daily medications is that the first pill often causes side effects that the second one is supposed to “fix.” "Marijuana's healing properties target various conditions such as inflamed joints, high blood pressure, chronic pain, digestive disorders, constipation, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, cognitive awareness, and more Marijuana has the potential for accentuating the effect of many commonly prescribed drugs (blog.norml.org)." For example, opiate based painkillers are typically enhanced when marijuana is used concurrently, often resulting in a reduction of pharmaceutical medicines.
4. There are many different types, or “strains” of marijuana
Growing this plant is not terribly different from gardeners attempting to create the perfect rose or tomato plant. Each plant has its own personality and effects. There are strains that are very helpful for chronic pain relief and strains Some strains can make one feel very focused and energized, while others can be relaxing and help with a good night’s sleep.
5. There are marijuana strains without “the high”
“If I could get the medical benefit from the plant without the high, I’d consider it.” said many of the seniors we’ve spoken to. Harvest cultivators have developed and are currently producing potent CBD genetic strains that have minimal psychoactive effect. CBD, or cannabidiol, is tremendous for inflammation, eases pain, stimulates bone growth, suppresses muscular spasms, reduces anxiety, and increases mental focus. Harvest currently carries liquid extracts that have no “high” at all. These have proven extremely successful for persons suffering from arthritis pain, nausea, and muscle spasms.
6. There are ways to use marijuana other than smoking it
One common misconception among aging adults is that they have to smoke marijuana to gain the medicinal benefits. Vendors provide products in different shapes, like liquid extracts, infused honey, candies, baked goods, and other products to choose from. Marijuana can be added to just about any regular recipe in the form of marijuana infused butters or oils. This opens up so many options for your medicine.
7. Marijuana-infused ointments can be very effective in alleviating arthritis and neuropathy pain
Locally made, medicated creams are very popular for sore joints and muscles and back pain. They are very effective, smell nice and give a you no “high” so you can feel comfortable using the products throughout the day.
8. Marijuana does not lower your IQ or cause brain damage
Another common misconception aging adults have with marijuana is that can lower intelligence or cause brain damage. There is no documentation that shows that marijuana reduces or “kills brain cells.” Studies with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients indicate that marijuana gradually encourages new neural pathways, allowing those with impaired brain function to potentially halt further degeneration and even encourage brain function.
9. Marijuana can help increase your appetite
One of the most dangerous health risks among senior citizens is the loss of appetite, leading to weight loss. Marijuana has been extremely successful in alleviating nausea and as an appetite stimulant. That being said, A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology finds an intriguing connection between marijuana use and body weight, showing that rates of obesity are lower by roughly a third in people who smoke marijuana at least three times a week, compared with those who don’t use marijuana at all.
10. The stigma around medical marijuana use is fading
Seniors are the fastest growing population of new medical marijuana users. Marijuana becomes more and more acceptable in different age groups and clusters of population, given that more and more States legalize weed for medical and even recreational purposes.
While there are over 100 different cannabinoids that can occur in cannabis, the two most well-known and studied compounds in the cannabis plant happen to also be the two that occur in the largest volume: delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC, and cannabidiol, known as CBD. Like all other cannabinoids, these two must be heated to convert the cannabinoid acid to the active cannabinoid. THC is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis which gives the effect of what recreational users call the “high.” CBD is considered to be non-psychoactive and when used in conjunction with THC helps dampen the psychoactivity and other side effects some people consider undesirable. Both cannabinoids have an impressive list of ways they support the human body.
THC is a strong anti-inflammatory and pain killer and has been shown to reduce the amyloid plaques in the brain that cause Alzhiemer’s. In pre-clinical trials THC has been proven to reduce levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in glioma (brain cancer) cells. This is important because a reduction in VEGF means that brain cancer tumors are unable to grow the new blood vessels they need to sustain themselves, grow and spread. This discovery offers great promise for the treatment of brain cancer.
THC is also a bronchodilator, anti-spasmodic, muscle relaxant, a powerful neuroprotectant and antioxidant. In fact, it has 20 times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin and twice that of hydrocortisone.
CBD is the second most common cannabinoid in cannabis and the most common in hemp plants. CBD can generally represent 0.1-12 percent of the cannabinoid content of the plant. CBD rich cannabis (4% or more) provides potent therapeutic benefits without the euphoria or lethargy of many high THC varieties. CBD and THC are believed to have a synergistic effect meaning that when they are both present at therapeutic levels, they are more effective together than they are alone. While THC is widely known for its psychoactive properties, CBD may be best known for its ability to counterbalance anxiety, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), hunger and sedation caused by THC and its ability to control sever forms of epilepsy.
CBD was once considered a minor cannabinoid under the shadow of THC. What we know now is that CBD is as beneficial and versatile a cannabinoid as THC in addressing many hard to manage conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, epilepsy, antibiotic-resistant infections, alcoholism, PSTD and neurological disorders. CBD has very strong anxiolytic (reduces anxiousness), anti-convulsant, anti-emetic (reduces nausea), anti-inflammatory, antioxidant (stronger than vitamins C & E), anti-depressant and anti-psychotic properties. One of the most exciting aspects of CBD is its combined strong anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and neuro-protective properties which yields great promise for the treatment of Alzhiemer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and all neurodegenerative-related diseases. CBD also helps regulate blood pressure and is cytotoxic to breast cancer and certain other types of cancer cells while protecting healthy cells.
What Symptoms of Chronic Pain Can Marijuana Treat?
Medical marijuana/cannabis and chronic pain conditions are closely related regarding alleviating symptoms you may have been suffering from for a protracted time. Medical pot may offer you substantial relief if you suffer from any of the following:
General non-specific chronic pain — for example, cancer pain or chronic neuropathic pain
· Low back pain
· Rheumatoid arthritis
· TMJ disorder
· Irritable bowel syndrome
· Chronic fatigue syndrome
· Neck pain
· HIV/AIDS-related pain
· Multiple Sclerosis
· Central nervous system issues
· Accident and injury-related pain
What Are the Best Strains of Marijuana to Use?
Whether you use edible forms of medical cannabis for chronic pain, roll it into a joint or use a vaporizer, there are many different strains of the plant that can substantially reduce discomfort. Perhaps you feel better when you smoke the drug, whereas someone else may find that taking low-dose edibles works for them.
Of course, the chemical composition of the strain you choose as well as your method of ingestion may affect your painkilling outcome. Keep in mind that it’s likely you might need to take a trial and error approach before you hit on the right strain and dosage for you.
Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to treating this type of pain. Many people find that indica strains that are higher in THC — the primary psychoactive substance that gives you a “high” — content than hybrid or sativa strains work well for them. These also work most effectively in doses that are low to moderate and can potentially make your pain worsen in higher doses.
No matter how you plan to ingest medical cannabis, there are various strains that can help reduce your discomfort. These include:
Although it can be difficult to find, it contains high levels of the cannabinoids CBD and THC. Advocates of this strain indicate that the benefits are numerous.
A potent general pain reliever, Afghan Kush comprises of almost 100 percent indica. Its effects are felt mostly physically, and this is why it works so well regarding pain relief. Afghan Kush contains anti-inflammatory and painkilling terpenes, as well as a high level of pain-dispelling THC.
This strain contains caryophyllene, which is known to work against cancer. Therefore, if your chronic pain is cancer-related, this could offer you relief. Other useful strains high in caryophyllene include Super Sour Diesel, Maui Waui and Hash Plant.
Blue Dream is a hybrid sativa that was first grown in California. It provides not only relaxation throughout the entire body, but many users also find it to be invigorating. This strain produces a mellow euphoria that produces a calming effect and also has an aroma similar to berries. Since it doesn’t result in the sedative effects of other strains, Blue Dream is well-suited for daytime use.
Another Californian type, Granddaddy Purple has been in existence for approximately 15 years. This strain can be potent, so don’t use it if you plan to go out during the day or the evening. Patients use Granddaddy Purple to relieve symptoms from pain, muscle spasms, stress, insomnia and more.
Girl Scout Cookies
This is another hybrid with a sweet aroma that’s very easy to spot, thanks to its orange hairs and purple leaves. This strain is well-known for producing a feeling of relaxation throughout the body and is popular among people who suffer from not only severe pain but also nausea and loss of appetite. The Girl Scout Cookies strain is best taken in small doses until you’re certain of how much you can handle at one time.
A well-known strain for easing nerve pain, Jack Herer, named after the author and activist, is high in sativa. Filled with natural painkillers, Jack Herer contains pinene that has anti-tumor properties.
A half-and-half cross between a pure indica and a pure sativa, this is a well-balanced strain that makes you feel uplifted while tackling your pain. White Widow also contains Linalool, an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever that’s also found in lavender.
Always speak to your doctor about which medical marijuana strain is anticipated to work best for your type of chronic pain.
Side Effects of Medical Cannabis
It’s imperative that you start off with the lowest dose possible when you’re beginning to take medical pot. You’ll soon find out via a trial and error process what works best for you.
If you do have any side effects of ingesting medical marijuana, they won’t last long and may include:
· Dry mouth
· Short-term memory loss
· Increased appetite
· Red eyes
· Anxiety or uneasiness
Medical marijuana affects everyone differently, but overall the marijuana side effects are more manageable and milder than those that come with traditional medicines like opioids.
Sources and Additional Information: