How should you talk about cannabis with your aging parents or loved ones?
This may seem like an odd question to ask, but it’s not.
According to the most recent data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA:
Roughly 1 in 10 seniors over 60 have admitted to using marijuana at least once. This is considerably more than previous generations of senior citizens. Overall, 33 percent of American adults under 65 now acknowledge having tried cannabis at least once.
Elderly populations are the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis users. It’s clear that maturing Americans are in need of care. Whether parents or grandparents, they could soon be asking about marijuana more frequently. They may not understand its potential effects on their deteriorating health.
In some cases, this is especially concerning.
The NIDA reports that seniors are more sensitive to the effects of cannabis than younger adults. This is because they’re more prone to side effects. They may be more likely to experience a worsening of existing health conditions. In other cases, some aging individuals use cannabis to self-medicate chronic ailments.
Medicinal cannabis use has been shown to help alleviate some symptoms for seniors with severe medical conditions. These include cancer and HIV. vVry few studies have attempted to quantify how marijuana affects older adults in general.
When treating the elderly, marijuana is still essentially an unknown.
Currently, cannabis remains a Schedule I narcotic by the federal government, which means that it’s classified alongside heroin as one of the most dangerous substances with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. This categorization has severely limited scientific research on cannabis and its effects, but that may soon change.
Despite the federal roadblocks to research, though, many clinical trials have found that cannabis can be an effective treatment for managing pain in seniors — particularly those who have one or more underlying health conditions like arthritis or cancer. Research on other potential health benefits is limited due to the scheduling restrictions. Still, many seniors are already using cannabis to improve their sleep, manage anxiety and depression, and stimulate appetite.
Nonetheless, some medical professionals have expressed concern over the lack of research on cannabis use in older adults.
While numerous reports from patients who have self-medicated with marijuana claim it has helped them cope with severe conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s, there are also reports of worsening symptoms. Studies on the effects of cannabis on seniors currently indicate a mixed bag of both positive and negative health outcomes when it comes to weed — few have evaluated whether one group is more likely to be helped or hurt than another.
As a result, doctors may hesitate to recommend medical cannabis to aged patients, particularly if they have a history of mental health issues that the drug may worsen. However, in states like Colorado and Washington, where medical marijuana is legal, many call for more research into medicinal cannabis use among seniors — especially those suffering from severe or terminal conditions.