More people than ever are using cannabis — also known as pot, marijuana or weed — for recreational and medicinal purposes as a growing number of states legalize the substance. Seniors, especially, are turning to it as a way to deal with aches and pains, and two recent studies track the popularity and potential pitfalls of cannabis use among those 65 and over.
Almost a third of older adults have tried weed to help manage pain, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
The good news is that it works — at least for many. More than half of the over 1,700 adults surveyed by University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told researchers that marijuana allowed them to use less heavy-duty prescription pain meds, including opioids, as well as over-the-counter analgesics like ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen.
“The fact that patients report substituting cannabis for pain medication so much, underscores the need for research on the benefits and risk of using cannabis for chronic pain,” Mark Bicket, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine and Co-director of the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network, said in a press release.
There has been a sharp increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits among seniors.
Older adults in general are at a higher risk for adverse reactions associated with psychoactive substances, and weed is no exception. Adults 65 and older who use cannabis are at high risk for some troubling effects.
In fact, there has been a sharp increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits among seniors, according to another new study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The UCSD researchers found a whopping 1,800 percent increase in the rate of cannabis-related trips to the emergency department from 2005-2019 among Californians 65 years and older. “Many patients assume they aren’t going to have adverse side effects from cannabis because they often don’t view it as seriously as they would a prescription drug,” Benjamin Han, the study’s first author and a geriatrician in the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology and Palliative Care in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, explained.
Marijuana use among older adults can lead to unintended and unexpected consequences. Among them:
- Since the use of cannabis slows reaction time and impairs attention, seniors are more likely to injure themselves by trips and falls.
- Marijuana may also increase mental and emotional issues and trigger psychosis, delirium and paranoia.
- It can exacerbate cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases.
- Cannabis can also interact with other prescription medications.
The San Diego team’s research suggests that education and discussion with older adults about cannabis use should be included with their routine medical care.
Considering the number of senior users, Alison Moore, co-author of the study and chief of the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology and Palliative Care in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, recommends to providers, “Instead of asking a question like ‘Have you used cannabis — also known as marijuana — for any reason in the last 12 months?’ encourage older adults to answer more frankly.”
More than half of the over 1,700 adults surveyed reported that marijuana allowed them to use less heavy-duty prescription pain meds, including opioids.
She suggests providers do this by “[asking] how frequently cannabis is used, for what purpose — such as medically for pain, sleep or anxiety, or recreationally to relax — in what form (smoked, eaten, applied topically) and if they know how much THC and CBD it contains. Once the provider has this type of information, they can then educate the patient about potential risks of use.”
Marijuana can affect your brain, lungs and your car driving. If you have questions, ask your doctor and check out recent research and statistics. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers this website.