Cannabis use among seniors is growing and there is no stopping it. Specifically, with the rise of medical (and recreational) cannabis legalisation comes soaring demand for cannabis-based products among people who fall into the senior age group.
In fact, a survey published by Science Daily on October 7, 2020 concluded that of 568 senior respondents, 15% had consumed cannabis within the past three years. Approximately 50% of older surveyed cannabis consumers also reported using the plant on a regular basis for medical reasons.
Since cannabis possesses analgesic, neuroprotective, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits, it has become a valuable tool for people’s health. An influx of studies and research efforts have instilled trust in older consumers who previously might have shunned the idea of using weed to treat an ailment.
This intensifying trend in senior cannabis use can also be attributed to sweeping legislation across North America, as well as legislative progress in continents like Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia.
As the discussion surrounding cannabis use heats up, one might wonder just how the plant’s use can benefit people and whether or not there are any unwanted side effects. This article will cover just that.
Data Demonstrates Growing Cannabis Use Among Seniors
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), approximately 85% of older adults deal with a chronic health condition and 60% suffer from at least two chronic health conditions, hence why people aged 50 and over may seek out cannabis-based treatments.
Based on a secondary analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, cannabis use prevalence in adults aged 65 and above climbed from 0.4% in 2006 to 4.2% in 2018.
The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine. It also revealed that 14,896 respondents aged 65 and over, 55.2% were male and 77.1% were Caucasian.
Numerous subgroups represented notable increases in consumption, including:
- Female seniors
- Racial/ethnic minorities
- Seniors with higher family income
- Seniors with mental health problems.
Why Might Older People Consider Using Cannabis?
An Israeli study of more than 2,700 seniors with a mean age of 75 years found that prescribed medical cannabis products contributed to symptomatic relief in more than 93% of participants.
“The therapeutic use of cannabis is safe and efficacious in the elderly population,” wrote the study’s authors. As a plant that possesses multifarious medicinal benefits (which we will discuss below,) the results of the Israeli study’s findings aren’t surprising.
Let’s briefly explore some of the reasons why seniors might integrate cannabis into their wellness routine:
- Stress Relief – A study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research highlighted the plant’s ability to relieve anxiety, agitation/irritability, and stress.
- Relieves Muscle Tension – Cannabis’ non-psychotropic compound CBD (cannabidiol) acts as a natural muscle relaxant through stimulating the release of neurotransmitters. CBD is also a natural anti-inflammatory and natural analgesic.
- Improved Mood – Science has proven that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) contributes to mood regulation. Research also supports the use of marijuana in bipolar disorder.
- Pain Relief – Some studies show that the pain-relieving qualities of cannabis are akin to (or in some cases, even better than) those associated with opioids. A 2020 study published in the journal Systematic Reviews found that cannabis patients had a 5.12 higher chance of reducing daily prescriptions of opioids and experiencing improved pain relief.
- Injury Recovery – Seniors who endure injuries/undergo surgeries may benefit from using CBD oil to speed up their recovery time. The oil’s neuroprotective properties are powerful enough to repair damaged nerve tissues.
- Chemotherapy-related Nausea and Vomiting – Cancer affects 2,151 of every 100,000 seniors, many of whom turn to cannabis as a way of dealing with two of the disease’s most common and unpleasant side effects — nausea and vomiting. Full-spectrum CBD products are recommended, as well as THC, the latter of which could increase appetite in cancer patients.
- Enhanced Focus and Energy – A 2014 study published in the journal Current Neuropharmacology revealed that CBD could work as a “wake-promoting” agent, as well as a stimulant for seniors who are low on energy. Seniors should opt for Sativa strains, which are renowned for their uplifting effects.
- Better Night’s Sleep – When cannabinoids bind to receptors in the brain, they transmit messages that are capable of boosting sleep-promoting adenosine levels. Due to its couch-locking effects, The Sleep Foundation recommends Indica strains for a better night’s sleep.
Potential Side Effects of Cannabis Use Among 50-and-Overs
Now that we’ve covered the potential perks of cannabis for seniors, it’s time to talk about the side effects. Just like any other substance, whether it’s caffeine, alcohol, or a prescription medication, cannabis can cause side effects.
Most seniors claim to have no prior experience with cannabis use and therefore may be at risk of experiencing the same strong side-effects that uneducated and naïve consumers usually experience after overindulging, such as confusion, dysphoria, dizziness, delusions, paranoia, panic attacks, and tachycardia.
The chances of having an adverse reaction to weed can be reduced if seniors steer clear of high potency THC products. Additionally, seniors ought to avoid products like edibles, which have a delayed onset.
What Factors Might Change the Overall Effects of Cannabis in Seniors?
People who suffer from a history of heart attack and/or stroke may be advised by their healthcare provider to refrain from using (or at least be cautious when using) cannabis, since certain studies have drawn a connection between cannabis and increased risk of cardiovascular problems in older people.
Some other factors that may influence the effects of cannabis on seniors include genetics, weight, tolerance, gender, biochemistry, quality, and strain choice.
Seniors are generating a significant amount of revenue for the medical cannabis sector — an industry that many healthcare professionals are progressively migrating into.
Survey findings are consistent in proving that older adults tend to enjoy physical activity more frequently than non-consumers. Not only this, but there’s evidence to suggest that seniors benefit from a higher quality of life than non-users.
Plus, support for cannabis legalisation among seniors is growing, with 63% of Baby Boomers in the U.S. saying they would back a measure of this kind. This is a noticeable increase from the less than one-third of Baby Boomers who backed cannabis reform a decade ago.
Just like with any other psychoactive agent, seniors are encouraged to talk with their doctor before using cannabis.
Written and Published by Bethan Bee Rose in Weed World Magazine Issue 159