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The Top 6 Reasons Seniors Over 65 Are Consuming More Medical Marijuana

Seniors are the fastest growing demographic of cannabis consumers - here's why

The Top 6 Reasons Seniors Over 65 Are Consuming More Medical Marijuana

by HelloMD Staff

September 14, 2020

Seniors are the fastest growing demographic of cannabis consumers - here's why

New research by JAMA, indicates that in just three years cannabis consumption among senior citizens over the age of 65 has jumped by 75%. In 2018, approximately 4.2% of seniors had consumed some form of marijuana, compared to just 2.5% in 2015. Interestingly, these findings show consumption rates are highest among women and ethnic minorities.

Seniors are leading the charge in marijuana consumption and are also the fastest-growing group of cannabis consumers overall. As stigma fades and more states go medical or recreational, both attitudes and access to cannabis are changing quickly. But why are seniors so excited about weed? We delve into the top 6 of reasons seniors over the age of 65 are consuming more cannabis.

1. Quelling Anxiety 

Anxiety is often experienced intensely within the adult aging population. Anxiety may stem from one or many things: a chronic medical condition, increased isolation, the increased risk of contracting coronavirus, or even the fear of being alone and falling. A 2009 report from Harvard Medical School stated that anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders affecting our elderly population.

A 2015 study illustrates CBD is an effective treatment for anxiety. It states that "Existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder."  CB2 Insights, recently stated that the largest group of patients seeking cannabis as a medicine (34.77%) did so for anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders. CBD is more popular within the elderly population as it is non-intoxicating, unlike its more psychoactive counterpart THC.

Some scientists believe that CBD reduces anxiety because of how it interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain. CBD may act similarly to prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and block the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain. Researchers have noted that the antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects of CBD may work faster than traditional SSRIs. Many people choose to take CBD daily to ease anxiety.

2. Easing Chronic Pain

Chronic pain affects upwards of 50 million Americans and is defined as any pain that lingers for more than 12 weeks. Common conditions among seniors linked to chronic pain, but not limited to, are back pain, neuropathy, and arthritis. Often patients have been prescribed opioids or other addictive medications, and they seek an alternative, one without all the side effects. 

Dr. Patricia Frye, an MD and well-known cannabis doctor, says, "Typically, patients will come in to see me with conditions like chronic pain, which tends to respond well to cannabis. I've found that about 6 out of ten patients respond well with the addition of cannabis in their treatment plan." As opioids have been shown to decrease in effectiveness over time and be highly addictive, for many, cannabis is a safer and effective alternative.

3. Combatting Insomnia 

As we age, getting a good night's sleep may seem more difficult. Causes of insomnia differ, and may be caused by normal changes in sleep patterns, an increase in medications, lifestyle habits, and more. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in aging adults, with 48% of the population experiencing it, according to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Seniors are turning to cannabis an effective and more tolerable way to achieve better sleep. Both THC and CBD are commonly used to combat insomnia, and which of the two works best is highly dependent on the individual. 

A joint study by HelloMD and Brightfield Group, found that 60% of study participants who used CBD successfully treated their insomnia. In 2014, research on cannabis and insomnia suggested that CBD may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia.

Studies show that many patients report falling asleep easier and more quickly after consuming cannabis with THC. Elderly adults often find success with cannabis, even in smaller doses. One study indicates that in an analysis of brain-wave activity, "cannabis has been shown to facilitate a relaxed state of alpha-dominated waves."

4. Reducing the Number of Prescription Meds 

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find a senior with six or more daily pharmaceutical prescriptions. Many of these drugs are addictive and may have debilitating side effects, which in some cases lead to taking more medication.

2016 study found that in states with access to medical marijuana, seniors consumed fewer traditional pharmaceuticals to treat depression, anxiety, pain, and other chronic issues. Overall, states that allowed for medical marijuana saw a decrease of $165.2 million in prescription spending by Medicare enrollees. Depending on the condition, cannabis can lead to elderly adults titrating their medication consumption down or eliminating it altogether.

5. Decreasing Opioid Use

In 2017, HelloMD conducted an observational study in conjunction with UC Berkeley on the effects of cannabis when introduced into an opioid medicinal regimen. The study concluded that 92% of cannabis patients prefer using cannabis to opioids when managing their chronic pain. 97% of patients indicated that they were able to reduce their opioid intake while consuming cannabis. 

Several other studies mimic these optimistic results. The cannabis advocacy group NORML cites additional studies. They state access to cannabis "is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, opioid-related drug treatment admissions, and opioid-related overdose deaths."

6. Stigma is Easing

In the US, a recent poll found that 94% Americans approved of some form of legalization of medical marijuana. The AARP, which has staunchly been anti-pot, recently declared support for the medical use of marijuana for older adults in states that have legalized it. As stigma fades, and more people consume marijuana with THC or CBD, seniors will continue to flock to weed as an alternative medicine. 

Seniors Should Consume Cannabis with Caution

Seniors should use caution when consuming any form of cannabis. Many medications, including the common drug warfarin, have negative interactions. CBD can also interfere with how some medications are metabolized. There are online resources that list cannabis drug interactions. It's highly recommended that any elderly person considering marijuana should talk to a knowledgeable doctor about cannabis before starting.

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