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9 ways cannabis can help senior citizens

Believe it or not, the seniors are taking up cannabis at a faster rate than any other demographic. According to a recent survey which looked at the cannabis habits of 47,000 people aged 50 and over, marijuana use in the age 65 and upwards bracket has risen by 250 percent.

It’s clear that the medicinal properties of marijuana hold great benefit to seniors and are often a more palatable option than prescription medication for treating chronic pain and other ailments. The stigma surrounding cannabis is slowly being ebbed away and is another reason for the uptick in cannabis use among the elderly.

Furthermore, a 2018 study found that almost 95 percent of seniors using marijuana for pain relief and similar symptoms experienced an improvement in their condition after six months of use. Moreover, almost one in five of the participants managed to stop, or at least cut down, their intake of prescription opioid painkillers.

All demographics are being affected by the opioid epidemic, with seniors hit more than most. Despite making up a mere 13 percent of the American population, more than half of the total opioid prescriptions in the United States in 2013 were given to senior citizens. Opioids pose an even greater to seniors than the rest of the population, as they can induce mental confusion, increase the risk of falling and leave users dependent on them, according to a Globe and Mail report.

In this post, we’ll look at nine of the most popular reasons why seniors are reducing their prescription drug intake, in favor of medical marijuana.

1) Chronic pain

Chronic pain manifests itself in several ways, affecting seniors in the form of arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve pain and more. However, patients are finally catching a break through marijuana. The herb helps to treat inflammation-caused arthritis pain, in addition to neuropathic pain. Cannabis achieves this through the effects that cannabinoids have on the endocannabinoid system. CBD, THC and other compounds block pro-inflammation molecules, and interact with other analgesic systems to reduce pain naturally.

While some seniors love to still roll up and smoke a joint, this is not at all necessary. Cannabis oil tinctures, edibles and topical products all provide considerable pain relief. Topicals are particularly good, as the cannabinoids can treat localized pain via this method, something they cannot do through oral consumption or inhalation. Vaping continues to soar in popularity as well, with seniors able to pick from CBD-isolate e-liquids to full-spectrum vape juices. None of these consumption methods take your fancy? Try CBD capsules – you can buy these pre-made or purchase the oil and empty capsules separately and fill them according to your dosage requirements.

2) Appetite

Seniors are prone to experiencing a reduction in appetite, and failure to eat can result in rapid weight loss. Many patients dealing with chronic pain also suffer from a lack of appetite. Nearly 80 percent of anorexia deaths occur in seniors, according to 2001 research.

That’s why the appetite-boosting properties of marijuana, commonly referred to as ‘the munchies’ are of such use to seniors. The increased sensitivity to scent and taste after taking cannabis makes food much more appealing, and the dopamine release from eating creates a pleasure reward mechanism.

3) Crohn’s Disease

An estimated 800,000 people in the United States are afflicted with an inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s Disease, which causes pain in the abdominal region, weight loss and bloody diarrhea. There is no cure for Crohn’s, and treatment options for this debilitating disease are limited. The condition affects both young and old, and research indicates that both demographics could benefit from taking cannabis. Marijuana helps to manage Crohn’s symptoms, and reduce pain and inflammation caused by flare-ups.

Furthermore, early research suggests cannabis could help to reverse Crohn’s disease. This is feasible, since Crohn’s is an inflammatory condition affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and cannabis is packed with anti-inflammatory compounds. Another plus is that unlike prescription medication given for Crohn’s, cannabis comes with no significant side effects and provides a complementary appetite boost.

5) Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye condition which causes an increase in pressure behind the eye due to an accumulation of nerve-damaging fluids. Glaucoma is the primary cause of blindness among the 60 and up age bracket. Eye drops have traditionally been prescribed to release the pressure, however, these need to be applied at regular intervals and are sometimes very expensive.

But cannabis is giving seniors a cheaper and maybe even more effective solution. Cannabis reduces eye pressure for several hours, much longer than eye drops, and relives the pain naturally. Famous actor Whoopi Goldberg has repeatedly voiced her support for marijuana as medication or glaucoma. Goldberg told of how cannabis helps her cope with glaucoma-induced headaches, in an articles she penned for the Cannabist.

6) Sleep

We might think that the seniors in our family spend much of their time sleeping, but this often the complete opposite of reality. Plenty of seniors suffer from insomnia or struggle staying asleep after nodding off. Without getting the necessary amount of sleep, it becomes harder for seniors to stay alert during the day, and the chronic fatigue which sets in can hinder them from leading a healthy lifestyle. However, marijuana can help to increase the amount of sleep you get, and improve the quality of that sleep, by increasing the time spent in deep sleep as opposed to rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep.

This is where it’s important to have some knowledge of cannabis strains and be aware of the differences between indica and sativa. Sativa is typically energizing, whereas indica strains produce a potent body high, promoting relaxation and sleep – it’s no wonder such strains are popular among seniors with insomnia. However, all age groups can improve their sleep by using indica cannabis or products made with indica extract.

An Eaze State of Cannabis Report found that 95 percent of patients who take sleeping tablets to improve their sleep have been able to cut down their intake after using cannabis products. The natural effects of marijuana do not sap all the energy out of the user like sleeping pills do. Therefore, when seniors awake the next morning after using cannabis the night before, they generally feel revitalized and ready for the day ahead.

7) Alzheimer’s Disease

The neuroprotectant properties of cannabis have been touted for a while, with cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabichromene (CBC) showing huge promise at not only protecting the brain but promoting the growth of new brain cells too (neurogenesis). This evidence is contrasting from what we have come to know about cannabis and the psychoactive chemical THC, which anti-pot folk say has a detrimental effect on memory. But the research that has been carried out on THC has shown that, when microdosed, the compound inhibits neurodegenerative beta-amyloid proteins, by halting and reversing production.

If left untreated, these harmful toxins can stop the brain accessing information, leading to memory loss. Research has demonstrated that THC’s interactions with endocannabinoids (cannabinoid-like chemicals produced by the body) helps to fight beta-amyloid protein build-up and stop cells from dying.

However, we need more studies to get a comprehensive picture on how cannabis works to protect and heal the brain. It’s in this medical area where the hypocrisy of the federal government is brought to light. As a Schedule I drug, cannabis is deemed to have “no medicinal value”. Yet that hasn’t stopped the Department of Health and Human Services from successfully obtaining a patent on cannabinoids being used as part of neuroprotectant drugs.

8) Depression

Depression is a mental health disorder which affects all areas, however seniors are especially blighted by the condition. Around seven million Americans aged 65 and over suffer from depression every year, according to research from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Nearly one in six of all suicides in 2004 were committed by seniors, and while the two aren’t directly related, it points at a trend of unhappiness among the elderly.

As well as elevating mood, cannabinoids such as CBD also have anti-anxiety properties. Combatting depression is considered one of the primary reasons for taking cannabis. High-THC strains can be a double-edged sword, with the psychoactive effects of THC inducing either euphoria or paranoia. For more consistent results, a high-CBD, low-THC strain like ACDC or Charlotte’s Web may be more appropriate. These strains relieve anxiety and boost mood without intoxicating the user.

9) Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes the death of brain cells which make the feel-good dopamine neurotransmitter. In addition to being a pleasure chemical, dopamine is also responsible for ensuring muscles remain under control and that the body moves smoothly. Common Parkinson’s symptoms include muscle spasms, shaking and uncontrollable tremors.

A deficiency in dopamine can also lead to sleep difficulties, memory loss and potentially dementia, stiff muscles, poor cognitive function and a loss of balance. The reasons for the death of these dopamine-producing cells remains a mystery to scientists, and therefore it’s no surprise that we lack sufficient treatment options for the conditions.

But encouragingly, a recent Israeli study revealed how marijuana could be used to help with several Parkinson’s symptoms, including rigid muscles and uncontrollable tremors.

9) Multiple Sclerosis

More than two million people globally are affected by Multiple Sclerosis, a demyelinating disease. MS patients suffer from many symptoms, including neurological and muscular pain, muscle spasms and gastrointestinal problems. Marijuana can be used to tackle all of these symptoms and enhance quality of life. In addition, a fascinating 2017 study found that compounds in marijuana are some of the few known to man that promote neurogenesis (i.e. the growth of new brain cells). This is one reason why cannabis seems to be so effective at helping people to manage their MS symptoms.

Final thoughts

This is not an exhaustive list, and there are several more ailments that seniors suffer with which could be treated with medical marijuana. Perhaps your grandparents are avoiding using cannabis, still worried about the possible risks that they had drummed into them 50 years ago. You may wish to inform them about how much cannabis has changed, and that there are plenty of therapeutic products that are non-psychoactive. There’s no need for them to continue suffering in silence.

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