Seniors and Medical Cannabis

Did you know 92% of seniors have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two? Or, that one in four older adults now suffer from some kind of mental disorder including depression and anxiety disorders, and dementia and that this number is expected to double to 15 million by 2030? Millions of people across this planet are suffering from age-related conditions, yet they are denied access to a substance that could help them.

According to the experts, there are more seniors seeking legal pot than ever before. Due to the high frequency of illnesses, like cancer and chronic pain, among senior citizens, this might not come as a shock. But you might be left wondering: how easily can Grandma access ganja?

SENIORS AND CHRONIC PAIN

f

A common health problem among elderly populations is chronic pain. This could be caused by any number of things. In seniors, pain management can prove to be a difficult task. Seventy-five percent of Americans, aged 65 or older, have chronic health problems, like diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, in addition to their pain. Ailments like these can make it harder for physicians to work with their patients to find a proper course of treatment for their pain.

And if there’s anything worse than chronic pain, it’s the under-treatment of chronic pain. This is especially true in senior populations. In a 2010 study, 21 percent of elderly adults in residential care facilities experience under-treatment for chronic pain. This is partly due to difficulties in communication caused by linguistic and cognitive impairments, like Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. Nevertheless, under-treating people who suffer chronic pain is a serious issue.

On the flip side, many doctors prescribe their senior patients opioid medications to manage their pain. While this may help in the short term, opioids can–and often do–cause a host of additional problems that may outweigh the benefits. Common issues stemming from opioid use include dependency and severe constipation. Opioid use also presents the risk of harmful interactions with other medication.

The importance of reducing prescription drug use among seniors should not be understated. Drug abuse among people over the age of 65 is a growing epidemic; nearly 55 percent of opioid prescriptions were doled out to seniors in 2013 (even though they make up only 13 percent of the population) which is an increase of more than 20 percent over the previous five years. The issue becomes apparent when considering the marked increase in drug-related emergency room visits among seniors.

Seniors are more likely to take multiple prescriptions, too, and may abuse or misuse their medication for many reasons including forgetfulness, increased tolerance and worsening medical conditions. This leaves older adults more susceptible to drug-related injuries (including fatality) as they attempt to juggle multiple medications at a time. By using cannabis to supplement prescription medication, seniors can help protect their bodies from a prescription drug cocktail.

POT’S POTENTIAL

So, let’s say you’re a senior with chronic pain. Opioids are harming you more than helping you. What are your options? According to a study conducted at New York University, the fastest growing population of medical marijuana patients are elderly people. To put it into numbers, another study recorded that between 2012 and 2013, there was a 250 percent increase in medical cannabis patients aged 65 and older. On the surface, this is great. More seniors are receiving adequate healthcare. They are using natural cannabis to alleviate their pain, and they won’t need to worry about any potential drug interactions.

But there is still the issue of access. For many elderly patients seeking medical cannabis, being able to go to a licensed dispensary can be a hardship. Especially if they live far away from one. For many, the distance means that they need to rely on their family members or others to provide transportation. Although some states allow dispensaries to deliver medication, not all do. Another issue is paying for their medication. Since the federal government still prohibits cannabis, neither Medicare nor Medicaid can cover it in their plans. They can’t even reimburse their clients for it. For seniors seeking legal pot, the financial burden often makes accessing cannabis even harder.

FINAL HIT: THE BENEFITS AND DIFFICULTIES FOR SENIORS SEEKING LEGAL POT

So what are the kinds of things marijuana helps if you’re a senior? “Number one is arthritis,” Taylor said. “There are tinctures and rubs that you could actually put on your legs, on your knees, across your back, wherever you’re having any arthritic pain. Most seniors use the cannabis for pain and to sleep.”

In fact, here are just some of the common conditions plaguing elderly individuals, conditions that cannabis has shown to be effective for:

When it comes down to it, cannabis absolutely benefits elderly populations. It’s nonaddictive. Patients can take it in a variety of forms. It won’t negatively interact with other medications. But the fact is, seniors seeking legal pot often face similar roadblocks that other populations do. Namely, access and cost. One way to solve this issue and assist elderly patients would be to make medical cannabis more accessible and affordable. Or, you know, just completely legalize it, so that insurance companies can cover it.