Medical marijuana is now legal in over two-thirds of the country, plus Washington D.C., and its prevalence is reaching a new generation. Nope, not Gen Zers coming of legal age; older adults are turning to cannabis, many for the first time, as a medical treatment.
A study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, published in October 2020 by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, reports that adults age 65 and older use cannabis primarily for medical purposes to treat common health conditions, most commonly pain, sleep issues and psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression.
For participants who reported cannabis use, three-quarters found it to be “somewhat” or “extremely” helpful in managing these conditions.
“For the most part, patients reported that cannabis was helping to address these issues, especially with insomnia and pain,” said Christopher Kaufmann, PhD, co-first author of the study and assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego, in a press release.
Of 568 patients surveyed, 15 percent had used cannabis within the past three years, with half of users reporting using it regularly and mostly for medical purposes. Researchers also discovered that 61 percent of the patients who used cannabis had initiated use after age 60.
“New users were more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons than for recreation,” said Kevin Yang, co-first author and third-year medical student at UC San Diego.
First time users were more likely use topical products, rather than smoking flower or ingesting edibles.
Ninety-four percent of respondents said family members were aware of their cannabis use, and about half reported their friends knew
“Also, they were more likely to inform their doctor about their cannabis use, which reflects that cannabis use is no longer as stigmatized as it was previously,” Yang noted.
“The findings demonstrate the need for the clinical workforce to become aware of cannabis use by seniors and to gain awareness of both the benefits and risks of cannabis use in their patient population,” said Dr. Alison Moore, senior author and chief of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Given the prevalence of use, it may be important to incorporate evidence-backed information about cannabis use into medical school and use screening questions about cannabis as a regular part of clinic visits.”
The researchers said future studies are needed to better understanding the efficacy and safety of different amounts and types of cannabis in treating common health conditions in older adults.
“There seems to be potential with cannabis, but we need more evidence-based research,” said Kaufmann. “We want to find out how cannabis compares to current medications available. Could cannabis be a safer alternative to treatments, such as opioids and benzodiazepines? Could cannabis help reduce the simultaneous use of multiple medications in older persons? We want to find out which conditions cannabis is most effective in treating. Only then can we better counsel older adults on cannabis use.”
“The findings demonstrate the need for the clinical workforce to become aware of cannabis use by seniors and to gain awareness of both the benefits and risks of cannabis use in their patient population.” Dr. Alison Moore Senior author and chief of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine
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