Cannabis for Older Adults
The legalization of cannabis has given more older adults the motivation to start using medical cannabis. Both to manage symptoms associated with ageing as well as other ailments such as chronic pain, insomnia, Alzheimer’s disease and much more. We know long-term prescription medication use has challenging side effects so it’s no wonder older adults are looking for alternatives.
Recent studies suggest cannabis use has steadily increased among those over the age of 65 years. Another California study found that among older adults who used cannabis, most cited they use it for medical reasons, commonly, pain, insomnia, and anxiety.
What the Research Says About Cannabis Use Among Older Adults
Here we will discuss what the research says about cannabis use for the most common illnesses and chronic conditions associated with ageing.
Some of the most common illnesses include; hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, osteoporosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We will also address other illnesses commonly associated with ageing such as Alzheimer’s Disease as well as for the reported common uses among older adults – insomnia, chronic pain, and anxiety.
Hypertension and Heart Disease
High blood pressure is a common condition that can be asymptomatic. Therefore, it’s important to get tested at regular intervals, particularly as you age. Chronic hypertension can lead to heart disease and many other health problems.
Preliminary studies suggest cannabis can help manage blood pressure and heart rate. In this 2021 study, researchers found “a significant reduction in 24-hour systolic and diastolic blood pressure values, with the lowest point occurring three hours after ingesting cannabis either orally via oil extracts or by smoking. Patients showed reductions in blood pressure in both daytime and nighttime, with more significant changes at night.” They also believe a reduction in pain was a contributing factor in the reduction of blood pressure. More research is necessary to fully understand the relationship between cannabis and blood pressure
More research is necessary to fully understand the impact of cannabis on heart health. Particularly for older adults who may be at higher risk for heart disease, heart attack or stroke.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little, or both. As a result, bones become weak and may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from minor bumps.
Although osteoporosis can affect people at almost any age, it’s most common among Canadians 50 years of age or older. 2 million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis, and at least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will break a bone due to osteoporosis in their lifetime.
In a 2015 study CBD showed promise in accelerating bone growth and healing when administered to rats who had experienced bone fractures. A 2017 study looked specifically at bone density loss as a result of spinal cord injury in rats – CBD increased the production of bone-forming agents and enhanced the quantity and quality of bone tissue in the spine.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions.
An animal study in 2015, found that CBD has the potential to modulate inflammation in the lungs. Another study in 2014, found that THC activated the CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system which stopped spasms by expanding the airways and making it easier to breathe. More research is necessary to understand the relationship between cannabis and inflammatory lung diseases. Particularly when it comes to smoking or otherwise inhaling cannabinoids.
Learn more about using cannabis to manage COPD, including the numerous alternative methods of consuming cannabis on our blog.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly causes memory and cognitive impairment. According to the most recent data, more than 402,000 seniors (65 years and older) are living with dementia in Canada which represents a prevalence of 7.1%. And according to the World Health Organization, 47.5 million people live with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, worldwide.
Research on the effectiveness of cannabis for treating symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease is still in the beginning stages, but preliminary research provides evidence for its use.
A 2016 study found that THC helped reverse the buildup of harmful amyloid plaques within the brain that contribute to neurodegeneration through the death of brain cells. Researchers also found that THC reduces inflammation, which contributes to the damage of brain cells. In another 2016 study researchers administered medical cannabis oil to a small group of Alzheimer’s patients and observed a significant reduction in dementia symptoms, these included; delusions, agitation/aggression, irritability, apathy, sleep and caregiver distress. They concluded that cannabis treatment was a “safe and promising treatment option” for addressing Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Learn more about using cannabis to manage symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease on our blog.
Cannabis has been used as a sleep aid for centuries due to its sedative effects. And now we are seeing the research to back up these claims. Initial research on cannabis and sleep shows that cannabis has a significant impact on a person’s ability to fall asleep. One study found that cannabis shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, both for people regardless of whether or not they normally have trouble with sleep.
It’s important to note that when it comes to sleep not all cannabinoids are necessarily created equal. While both THC and CBD can help a person fall asleep, sometimes people wake up feeling groggy after. This is because THC can affect how long a person is in REM sleep. Therefore CBD may be more effective in treating insomnia than THC as it doesn’t appear to affect a person’s sleep cycle.
Learn more about the best methods of using cannabis to improve your sleep on our blog.
Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons for adults seeking medical care. In Canada, approximately 27% of seniors experience chronic pain and it’s even higher (83%) among those living in long-term care facilities.
Cannabis is well established for use associated with chronic pain. During cannabis research, symptoms often improve, in part, as a result of reduced pain and inflammation. Learn more about using cannabis to reduce pain and the research behind its use on our blog.
Anxiety is common among all Canadians, with a prevalence rate of approximately 12%. Fears associated with the normal process of ageing can lead to anxiety. There are a number of things that older adults are afraid of, such as falling, being unable to afford living expenses and medication, being victimized, being dependent on others, being left alone, and death. Although these fears are normal they can be difficult to manage, even for older adults, cannabis can help.
A number of people have turned to cannabis as a means of managing anxiety. Though cannabis and anxiety have an interesting relationship as some people experience an increase in anxiety at higher doses. Some studies suggest there may be a tipping point when it comes to THC and anxiety. That point is going to vary between individuals based on a number of factors. As a result, many people choose to start with CBD alone or CBD dominant products as CBD doesn’t have the same impact on anxiety.
Researchers have begun to look at the endocannabinoid systems’ role in the management of anxiety to better understand the impacts of cannabis on anxiety. So far they’ve found the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in our ability to react appropriately to fear, is linked to our stress resilience, and our ability to maintain emotional homeostasis.
Learn more about using cannabis to manage symptoms associated with anxiety for older adults (and everyone else) and how you can make it work for you.
Cannabis and Drug Interactions
Before adding cannabis into your health routine, it’s important to consider possible drug interactions.
When we talk about drug interactions we’re not always talking about significant risks (although this can be the case). Drug interactions can simply mean a change in the action or side effects of a medication when used in conjunction. Overall, be thoughtful about drug interactions as they can impact things like the safe and most effective dose.
We recommend speaking to your primary care provider about possible drug interactions prior to adding cannabis into your health routine. Though drugs.com is a potential resource to use to check drug interactions with cannabis.
If you plan to add any cannabinoid into your treatment plan without speaking to your doctor and are currently on medication we advise you to start with a very low dose and increase slowly (ideally overall several days).
Also, it’s important to not do any activities that require mental acuity, such as driving or operating heavy machinery, while first learning the impacts of these medications.
Learn more about cannabis and drug interactions on our blog.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice and should be used for information purposes only.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis for Older Adults
Cannabis use among older adults is increasing significantly and for good reason. Cannabis can be a safer alternative for many traditional treatments for the numerous conditions people experience as they age.
Although some studies have begun to look at the long-term impact of cannabis use, it’s important to continue this research.
Are you an older adult who has turned to cannabis as an alternative method of treatment? We want to hear from you! Contact us at email@example.com to connect with our team.