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Seniors: Benefits and Delivery Methods of Medical Cannabis

June Tapia


You do not have to smoke it and you do not have to get high 

Those are the 2 biggest misconceptions that keep many seniors from trying medical cannabis, so I wanted to allay your fears from the get-go. As we age, we are more likely to develop chronic painful conditions such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and cancers as well as neurological conditions and mental decline. Statistics show that more than one-third of the prescription drugs used in the US are taken by seniors. Many are tired of the adverse side effects of their medications and are willing to try cannabis based on recommendations from doctors, friends and family members. As a result, seniors are the fastest growing group of new medical cannabis users.

I have listed many of the conditions that respond well to cannabis usage as well as the different delivery methods for its consumption. Finally, I have cited a study on seniors suffering from chronic pain who began using medical cannabis to replace their opioid medications. Many of the participants were able to reduce or completely stop using opioids. They felt the quality of their lives improved significantly.

Conditions of Aging that Cannabis Controls:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • General Pain and Joint Pain
  • Cancer and Side Effects of Chemotherapy such as nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite
  • Insomnia and Sleep Disorders
  • Anxiety such as OCD, PTSD and Panic Attacks
  • Neurological diseases such as Parkinson's Disease, MS, Alzheimer's Disease and ALS
  • Anorexia which is common in the elderly
  • Glaucoma

Delivery Methods To Consume Medical Cannabis: 

  • Vaping in a Vaporizer or Pens which is much less harsh than smoking
  • Edibles in Food and Drinks but start with a low dosage and increase slowly
  • Tinctures taken sublingually
  • Oils, including Full Extract Cannabis Oils (FECO or RSO), taken by mouth
  • Topicals such as salves, creams, sprays and lotions
  • Suppositories and yes, they really work well! They are the most efficient and beneficial delivery method.
  • Capsules
  • Smoking

Please note: If you do not like the psychotropic effects (the high), then choose High-CBD/Low-THC products

Study: Older Adults Use of Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain: A Multisite Community Based Survey 

The study was conducted by Northwell Health researchers on seniors suffering from chronic pain who began using medical cannabis as a treatment option. They were all taking opioid medications for pain management. The goal was to gauge how effective medical cannabis was in controlling chronic pain and decreasing opioid usage. The results suggested that cannabis reduced their pain as well as their need for opioid painkillers. The study was co-authored by Dr. Diana Martins-Welch and Dr. Pauline Agornyo. Dr. Martins-Welch is a physician in the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, Department of Medicine at Northwell Health Systems, NY. Dr. Pauline Agornyo is the Geriatric Fellow at Northwell Health Systems.

Participants in the study reported that their chronic pain stemmed from osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, hip and knee pain where replacements were not recommended, and pain that did not respond to cortisone injections. Many had been using opioids for years, even decades.

A anonymous questionnaire with 15 questions was used to survey 138 men and women, ages 61-70, about their medical cannabis usage. They were asked about the frequency of usage, their delivery method, how much it reduced their pain and the impact it had on reducing their need for painkillers.

  • 45% of respondents vaped
  • 28% used cannabis in pill form
  • 17% used oils
  • 21% used cannabis once a day
  • 23% used it twice daily
  • 39% used it more than twice a day

Patients reported the following when asked if they were able to reduce their opioid medications after beginning medical cannabis usage:

  • 18% reported the decrease as "moderately"
  • 20% reported it as "extremely"
  • 27% reported it as "completely"

When asked who had recommended medical cannabis to them, participants reported the following:

  • 46% by their doctor
  • 24% by a family member
  • 6% by a different health care provider
  • 24% did not specify

Patients were asked to quantify how much their pain levels had changed from before the beginning of the study to one month after starting medical cannabis usage. The majority rated their pain at 9 on a scale of 0-10 before cannabis usage and experienced a reduction of pain to 5.6 on the scale.

Patients were also asked to rate how much the adverse side effects of opioid medications impacted their daily lives. The average score was 6.9 before the study and decreased to 3.5 after one month of using medical cannabis.

Some additional interesting data:

  • 64% of older patients vs 93% of younger patients reported a decrease in opioid usage
  • 86% of older patients vs 100% of younger patients recommended medical cannabis usage

Here are some of the comments made by participants after using medical cannabis:

"My quality of life has increased considerably since starting medical marijuana." I was on opiates for 15 years, and 6 months on marijuana, and off both completely."

"Medical marijuana is extremely effective and has allowed me to function in my work and life again. It has not completely taken away the pain, but it allows me to manage it."

"I was on Percocet and replaced it with medical marijuana. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Source: eurekalert.org, Survey: Medical Marijuana Could Reduce Opioid Use in Older Adults, Northwell Health, May 1, 2018 aging.com, The Complete Guide To Medical Marijuana For Seniors