In the United States, senior citizens compose the fastest growing demographic of medical cannabis users. In one year the number of cannabis users age 55 and over grew 53%. Why is this happening? The answer has many components.
Senior citizens often find themselves taking a number of medications to combat the effects of getting older. Unfortunately, a lot of the medications that are prescribed for these conditions have side effects of their own; alleviating these negative effects often means taking even more drugs. A lot of seniors have gotten to the point where they just don’t want to be taking 20 pills a day, and they have found that cannabis can take the place of most if not all of these medications while also avoiding the negative side effects caused by many pharmaceuticals.
20 years ago, most seniors would not even consider pot as an alternative treatment for their health issues. However, with the recent legalization of medical cannabis in 30 states, and the increase in research in other countries that indicates its efficacy related to medical use, more and more older Americans are embracing cannabis as a way to maintain their quality of life as they age.
Medical Marijuana Helps the Following Conditions:
Cancer. Marijuana helps slow or even stop the growth of cancer, in effect causing the tumor cells to commit suicide.
Anorexia. Loss of appetite, and the consequences of not eating enough, contributes to almost 80% of senior deaths. Marinol, a synthetic form of cannabis, has been used as an appetite stimulant for cancer patients since it received FDA approval in 1985. The endocannabinoid CB1 plays an important part in appetite stimulation and pain control. Regulating these two factors is important in maintaining a healthy eating pattern.
Chronic pain. The endocannabinoid system plays an important part in regulating pain. When your body is injured, endocannabinoids stimulate your immune system to begin the healing process. Cannabis helps regulate this system through a natural process, because cannabinoids are naturally occurring in the cannabis plant. They bind to the receptors found in our body and encourage healing, thereby decreasing pain. In a recent study, over 93% of patients reported a decrease in pain from 8/10 to 4/10 when using the 0-10 pain scale. (ejinme.com) In fact, over 18% of patients either decreased or eliminated their opioid intake because of using cannabis during this timeframe.
Anxiety and Sleep Disorders. THC and CBD work in tandem to decrease anxiety and help people sleep better. It is important to note, however, that this is a dose-related benefit. Too much cannabis can actually increase anxiety. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the effects of using too much cannabis. These include CBD oil, deep breathing, chewing on peppercorns, eating mango or other citrus-heavy food, drinking passionflower tea, listening to music or watching a TV show, taking a shower, or engaging in mild exercise.
Parkinson’s Disease. Cannabis use has been found to be helpful in reducing muscle stiffness, tremors, falls, pain, and depression related to the initial stages of Parkinson’s disease. (NCBI)
Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s is caused by a buildup of plaque in the brain. The combination of THC and CBD has been found to slow down the production of beta-amyloid cells, the major contributors to this condition. It also decreases inflammation, which helps slow the progress of the disease. While it is not a cure, it can certainly make life better and slow the progression of the disease. (MMJHerb)
Multiple Sclerosis. Studies have shown that cannabis can help with the pain, spasticity, bladder problems, and stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis. The CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors seem to play an important role in this relief. Currently, studies are being conducted to see if cannabis indeed slows the neurodegenerative process that characterizes multiple sclerosis. It is evident that the side effects of marijuana are much less acute or dangerous than those of the multiple drugs currently used to treat MS. (SafeAccessNow)
Depression. According to a recent study, between 10% and 30% of people who take pharmaceuticals for depression experience little to no relief from that medication. Conversely, utilizing cannabis high in CBD has been noticed to elevate the moods of depressed people. Micro-dosing seems to be most effective for depression, since it helps maintain a more consistent level in the bloodstream. It is important to note, though, that high-THC strains of cannabis can actually exacerbate the symptoms of depression because of the potential for psychoactive effects. (Journal of Affective Disorders)
This is by no means an exhaustive list of conditions helped by MMJ, but it should provide a basic idea of the many ways seniors can benefit from using cannabis.
Routes and Dosing Guidelines for Seniors
I can’t say this enough: Start Low. Go Slow.
As we age, our bodies process things differently. If you are 55 or 60, smoking a joint or enjoying an edible isn’t going to affect you the same way that it would someone who is 20 years old. These Earth-suits we are born into begin to function less efficiently with time, and we need to take that into account when using cannabis just like everything else we do.
For someone new to MMJ, a good starting dose is 1-2 mg regardless of route. It is far better to start with a small amount and build up than to overdo it, have a bad experience, and be soured on even the prospect of using medical marijuana in the future. Micro-dosing is recommended for seniors, as is adjusting these doses by tiny variables. You may really be surprised at what even a small amount of cannabis will do for you. Remember, the goal is not to get high; it’s to get relief. Using the smallest amount possible to get the best relief possible is what we’re aiming for.
There are several different routes available in Florida. These include vape oil, distillates, tinctures, suppositories, capsules, vaporizers, nebulizers, nasal sprays, patches, and topical applications. Each one has its own benefits and drawbacks, and you may have to experiment a bit to find what works best for you.
Vape Oil Cartridges are used with a battery, and function much like an e-cigarette. The effect is rapid, but it is also short-lasting. Since many vape oil cartridges are made with carrier oils, people with allergies may want to be careful to make sure they can tolerate the additives in these cartridges before purchasing them in quantity.
Distillates are a concentrated form of cannabis without any carrier oils or additives. They can be used in dab pens or rigs, mixed with coconut oil or another substance and made into capsules, used to make edibles, or added to ready-made food and ingested that way. Some people squeeze some onto a toothpick and rub it onto their inner cheek. They are very strong and should be used with caution by beginners. Effects depend on usage.
Tinctures are created by combining cannabis with a form of alcohol, and, generally, some kind of flavoring. They can be taken orally or put into capsules. They usually come with a dropper, and each drop contains a certain dose of the product. These are also good for micro-dosing. They don’t take effect as quickly as vape oil, but they do last a bit longer.
Suppositories are great for nausea as well as lower body pain or spasms. If you cannot take your MMJ orally, these may be the option for you. They aid in muscle relaxation and pain relief.
Capsules are edibles in simplified form. You can purchase them from dispensaries or make your own, like many other options on this list. They are most often made from cannabis extract and a carrier like coconut oil.
Vaporizers heat dry cannabis so it can be inhaled. This method releases the beneficial attributes of plant matter without igniting it, thereby avoiding the release of smoke, cancer-causing agents, tar, and other harmful components. There are several different styles of vaporizers ranging from vape pens to desktop models. Costs vary widely and most people can find a delivery system they can afford. Vape pens can run from under $25 to over $200; desktop models can cost upwards of $700.
Nebulizers act by sending compressed air though the cannabis flower, converting it to an aerosol. There is no smoke, heat, or vapor produced, so no odor lingers when you use them. No carcinogens or heat are produced, which makes this option better for patients who have respiratory issues. Similar machines are used to dispense medication to COPD and asthma patients.
Nasal Sprays are designed to help stop a seizure (particularly a grand mal seizure) or a migraine in its tracks. It delivers THC and/or CBD directly to the bloodstream via the nasal membranes, which, according to the literature, makes it more quickly available to the brain and increases bioavailability. Absorption, like with every other method, depends on your general health, your metabolism, and the condition of your nasal passages. They can be very helpful for seizure patients and those suffering migraines.
Transdermal Patches act by delivering a controlled constant dose of cannabis to the body through the skin. Since it doesn’t have to be digested or transported through the lungs or mucous membranes, plant bioavailability is increased. These are good for chronic pain, seizures, and nerve pain.
Topical Applications include lotions, oils, and balms. They can be used for everything from minor abrasions to skin cancers. The product is absorbed through the skin and can be applied just about anywhere. Migraine sufferers may find relief from balm applied to the temples or base of the neck; sore muscles benefit from lotions or oils; even strains and sprains can be helped with the use of a topical compound. Some compounds also include essential oils such as peppermint, cayenne, clove, or lavender to assist in relaxation or provide additional anti-inflammatory effects. Topical applications have no psycho-affective properties so you’re not going to get high from them. The cannabinoids bind to CB2 receptors in the body, releasing the THC and CBD to do their jobs.
Many of these delivery options can be produced at home if you have the time, determination, and proper equipment. Edibles can be made with distillates or oils, though the quantity of distillate required is much lower due to its concentration so it may be preferred by those who don’t want a strong cannabis taste to their products. Balms may only need 3-4 ingredients in addition to the cannabis. Capsules can be expensive, but patients have used distillate and coconut or another kind of oil to make their own.
Living in the Internet age offers definite advantages for cannabis users. Resources such as YouTube, cannabis websites, and Facebook groups allow patients to network with others and benefit from their experience. A trip to Pinterest or a simple Google search will result in multiple recipes for cannabis balm, oil, edibles, and even transdermal patches and nasal spray. No longer left to figure things out on our own through trial and error, patients can begin with a basic recipe and tweak it to fit their own needs. The cannabis community is great about helping others find what works best for them. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask if you have questions about what route might be best for you, how different delivery systems may benefit or be a drawback to your specific condition, and potential side effects you should watch for.
The advantages of using cannabis as a senior citizen are multiphasic. Once we get past the stigma attached to this plant, we discover that it can make our lives easier and better while we age. We have reached the point in our lives where it’s time to kick back and relax a little bit, and medical marijuana can help us do that.