Medical cannabis is an emerging health solution for millions of people. The chemical compounds found in cannabis have been shown to help reduce the symptoms of numerous health conditions and may serve as an alternative treatment in many others. Recent research into the effects of cannabis and its medical applications have unlocked new evidence for aging treatment; for America’s aging seniors, medical cannabis may provide a range of benefits that can improve quality of life and mitigate troubling chronic health conditions.
Seniors and Cannabis: Data on Usage
Changing attitudes about cannabis and new scientific research into its potential benefits have caused usage levels among older Americans to climb. In a literature review published in the journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, researchers investigated the period between January 2000 and December 2017 to determine cannabis usage rate increases or decreases. The researchers noticed that the greatest increase in cannabis use in the United States was by adults 50 years of age or older. Within that group of users, people aged 65 years or older represented the largest increase in older cannabis users.
Today, more and more middle-aged people are turning to cannabis for both medical and recreational uses. Another study showed that in increases in non-daily cannabis use before and after 2007, middle-aged people in the range of 50 to 64 years were the only group with significant increases. Researchers expect that if cannabis usage trends continue, older Americans will surpass that of the current largest user group – those aged 35-49 years.
Cannabis: Aging Treatment for Older People?
Reams of anecdotal evidence have pointed to medical cannabis as a potential means of treating numerous age-related health conditions. Thanks to more rigorous scientific research, evidence-based information is making the cannabis picture much clearer. The key to cannabis as an aging treatment lies in the active chemical compounds found in cannabis plants. Of particular note are two compounds known as cannabinoids; these compounds are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
In several clinical studies, THC has been shown to have a neuroprotective effect. Researchers have demonstrated that THC reduces the levels of amyloid-beta plaques in the human brain; these plaques are found in high levels in Alzheimer’s disease patients. In fact, several studies have shown that THC can slow, stop, or even reverse the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s and similar cognitive degeneration diseases.
THC is also known for its anti-anxiety properties, helping older adults cope with the stresses of aging. Psychosocial stresses, which can include anxiety, depression, and behavioral shifts (mood swings), are a major risk factor for seniors. THC in low doses can help to mitigate stress levels; at higher THC percentages, the reverse was seen, indicating that low-THC cannabis products may be the preferred alternative for those experiencing aging stresses.
The chemical compound CBD is not psychoactive; in other words, this chemical does not produce the “high” sought after by recreational users. CBD does, however, have numerous powerful health effects, including pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. Cannabis products high in CBD content have been shown as beneficial for such chronic conditions as:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Pain and nausea resulting from certain cancers and cancer treatments
- Stress disorders
Alternatives to Traditional Medications
Traditional medications used to treat many health conditions come with potentially dangerous or deadly side effects. Opioid-based pain medications have a high potential for abuse; abuse of these drugs leads to thousands of preventable deaths each year in the United States. Drugs in the class of medications known as NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used to treat the pain and inflammation associated with chronic conditions like arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders. Overuse of these drugs may cause elevated blood pressure, putting a strain on the circulatory system. Many patients develop bleeding in the digestive tract from long-term use of NSAIDs.
Faced with these unpleasant – or even deadly — side effects, many healthcare professionals and individuals alike have sought safer alternatives. Medical cannabis may be that safer alternative, particularly in aging treatment. While more research into the properties and applications of cannabis is needed, medical researchers have found promising information that points to cannabis as an effective and safe alternative to many prescription medications currently in use.