Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
More seniors than ever before use cannabis products to manage chronic pain, sleep better and even strengthen their bones. In fact, seniors are the fastest-growing demographic of medical marijuana users in the United States.
Learn about the numerous health benefits of cannabis for seniors and how you or the older person in your life can use medical marijuana to feel better and ease the effects of chronic diseases.
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Benefits of Cannabis for Seniors
Using cannabis as a senior offers many potential benefits, from helping ease arthritic pain to strengthening bones and making fractures less likely.
Helps With Arthritis Pain Without Risk of Addiction
Quite possibly, one of the saddest things to see is older persons becoming “zombified” due to the opioids (particularly codeine) or hypnotic drugs prescribed to help them manage the pain of arthritis and other conditions. Moreover, some of these prescription medications may even make arthritic pain worse in the long term.
Many patients prescribed opioids to deal with chronic pain eventually abuse them, and some become addicted. Cannabis can help seniors avoid or get off such prescription drugs, except perhaps in the most severe circumstances.
There are two good reasons for cannabis’s ability to treat pain. One is that phytocannabinoids help provide pain relief via the endocannabinoid system (ECS) rather than directly via the opioid receptors in the body, meaning the addiction potential is reduced significantly.
The other reason is that one of the leading causes of pain is psychological stress. Reduce the stress and you can reduce the pain, which is one of the reasons why doctors often prescribe antidepressants to manage pain. And cannabis’ ability to manage stress and anxiety is well documented.
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Improves Sleep Quality
Some studies have indicated that cannabis can help people sleep better. Some of the potential sleep benefits of cannabis are attributed to CBD, which may help some people feel calmer. But not everyone will feel relaxed when using CBD, and some people may actually feel more energized if using low doses of CBD and little-to-no THC. On the other hand, some users report a sedative effect from THC combined with the myrcene terpene.
CBD products containing melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, may be especially beneficial. Sleep products with CBD are available over-the-counter without a prescription, but a medical marijuana card will help you access a full range of cannabis that could help with insomnia.
May Help Strengthen Bones
Osteoporosis and osteopenia are two degenerative bone conditions that affect older people, especially women. Research has shown that consuming cannabis is linked to the reversal of bone loss. This does not mean that cannabis is a cure for osteoporosis or osteopenia, but that the plant could make bones stronger while reducing the risk of breaks.
Other research has shown that heavy, daily use of cannabis could have a negative effect on bone density. Scientists have not yet established a link between moderate or occasional cannabis use and loss of bone density. Consult your doctor before using medical marijuana for osteoporosis or any other condition.
One challenging aspect of getting older and becoming more susceptible to illness is that the appetite tends to slow down. Appetite reduction can lead to weight loss, a general lack of energy, issues with the immune system and depression.
This problem is compounded when taking several prescription pills that all bear their own side effects, some of which might aggravate the issues listed above. Cannabis can stimulate the appetite and help prevent these issues from occurring.
Some seniors may also benefit from taking dronabinol if they have been diagnosed with cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy. Physicians may prescribe this synthetic THC-based medicine to help battle the nausea and appetite loss that often accompany chemotherapy and other cancer treatments like radiation.
Some patients report the effects of dronabinol being too overwhelming compared to THC in medical cannabis, which contains many other cannabinoids and terpenes that may help reduce the adverse effects of THC via the entourage effect.
Reduces the Number of Pills Needed
Have you ever had to take several pills in the morning, then again at noon, and then again at night? Remembering what needs to be taken, when each pill needs to be taken and needing to alter meal times to accommodate meds can be a massive headache for both the pill taker and their caregivers.
Before you know it, you’re taking more pills to counteract the side effects of the other medications, which might not even be doing an adequate job of treating the initial ailment. That’s why many older people who start using cannabis find that they can reduce the amount of medication they need daily.
Few people realize that constantly taking pills can have a significant psychological impact on older patients. Taking several different medications can wreak havoc on the body, especially when trying to control side effects, getting dosages correct and managing symptoms. Cannabis can lessen the burden of a heavy pill dosage, or at least take the edge off when it comes to pain, muscle aches and anxiety.
As more research and science support the effectiveness of marijuana’s medical potential, many older people are coming around to the idea of medical cannabis. If you or your loved one is a senior, you can apply for a medical marijuana card directly through Leafwell and start purchasing medical cannabis legally in your state.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Are edibles safe for seniors?
Cannabis edibles may be safe for some seniors, but you should consult with your doctor before consuming them. Edibles tend to have more severe side effects than other cannabis ingestion methods. People with mental health issues may be especially prone to the side effects of potent edibles, so use with caution and start with a very low dose of THC.
Is CBD oil safe for seniors?
CBD oil has lots of potential as an effective anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic and neuroprotective. The older we get, the more likely we are to suffer from degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease. CBD could help prevent such conditions from taking too much of a hold on a person’s life, and may actually help repair the nervous system after a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
On top of its effects on the nervous system and brain, CBD benefits the rest of your body, too. CBD is useful for taking the edge off of chronic pain, muscle or joint soreness caused by issues like arthritis. It can also help ease symptoms and physical effects of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress disorders, even helping you get a good night’s sleep.