With an increasing number of states legalizing adult use, or “lifestyle” cannabis, tens of millions of senior citizens and baby boomers are entertaining the idea of integrating the consumption of the plant into their daily lives. Seniors are beginning to treat a wide range of ailments — from glaucoma and cancer to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and heart disease — via the use of cannabis as either a concentrate, edible, or simply dried flowers that are smoked, vaporized, or ingested (eaten).
One of the greatest applications of medical cannabis is as an analgesic, or pain-killer. Many conditions, especially arthritis, result in pain, making the fact that a variety of strains of cannabis are very effective at combating it a major reason for seniors to consider its use. Also, cannabis is regarded by many physicians and medical researchers to be the most effective nausea reliever available (including pharmaceutical drugs). Millions of senior cancer and Crohn’s patients must undergo chemotherapy; a few puffs of cannabis, which delivers no serious negative side effects, can virtually eliminate their nausea and vomiting.
Many seniors also suffer from anxiety and depression due to the loss of a spouse or friends or simply the gradual and natural deterioration of their health. Cannabis is one of the most effective tools against depression; this is a major reason the herb is such a powerful therapy in the treatment of PTSD. Also, most diseases, especially those that are terminal, produce a pensive reckoning and dread that can significantly degrade a patient’s quality-of-life. The euphoria and happiness produced by cannabis, specifically strains high in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, is a natural way to combat this perceived hopelessness and depression.
For seniors who prefer not to experience psychoactive effects, CBD extracts and oils are available in many states that can be effective for cancer, asthma, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, among many other conditions. However, it should be noted that the theory of the entourage effect indicates that whole plant therapy, involving dozens of cannabinoids and terpenes that interact synergistically, is most beneficial for the majority of patients. In the end, each individual is different and will exhibit a varied response to cannabis or an extract.
Best End-of-Life Therapy
Doctors and medical cannabis professionals have witnessed very strong anecdotal evidence to support the calming, anti-anxiety properties of cannabis since the 19th century. In 1887, American physician and professor Hobart Amory Hare wrote about how cannabis subdued restlessness and anxiety. He claimed that the kind herb was able to calm the minds of terminally ill patients. Wrote Hare:
“The patient, whose most painful symptom has been mental trepidation, becomes more happy.”
More recent studies have been conducted by Valerie Corral, co-founder of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in Santa Cruz, California. WAMM is a small marijuana farm that is categorized, according to state law, as a medical cannabis cooperative. Corral’s donation-based organization is unique because it is non-profit and comprised of mostly seriously ill and terminal patients. HIV/AIDS and cancer are the two most common conditions in the co-op, which was founded nearly 23 years ago by Corral and her ex-husband.
Corral has been at the side of literally hundreds of members during their slow decline and deaths over the years. She has conducted formalized clinical tests with volunteers from WAMM and identified what she labels a “shift in consciousness” among terminally ill patients who undergo cannabis therapy. Corral believes this shift permits patients to more calmly accept the reality of their condition and, thus, enjoy a healthier, happier life during their final years or months. Said Corral:
“This is of particular interest, as each patient reported a reduction in anxiety often associated with the dying process.”
Of course, a more optimistic disposition also allows patients to more effectively combat their condition and its symptoms and remain hopeful of remission or recovery. Patients who give up and become despondent often fail to improve and deteriorate at a more rapid pace, with little hope of recovery.
Ditching the Opiates
One of the most effective and beneficial uses of cannabis by seniors is to decrease or rid themselves entirely of pharmaceutical drugs like opiates (click here to learn how Boston sportscasting celebrity Bob Lobel replaced opiates with medical cannabis). Because cannabis is such an effective analgesic and anti-anxiety treatment, patients can treat their pain while simultaneously battling the stress and anxiety that results from a life-threatening disease. Management of this anxiety is critical to effectively treating depression that, when severe, may result in suicidal impulses or simply no desire to live or socialize — conditions that any physician would agree do not hasten the healing process.
The negative side effects of opiates are many, including disorientation, confusion, nausea, loss of appetite, and sometimes an almost complete loss of functionality. Sue Taylor, a senior patient liaison at Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, one of the country’s largest cannabis dispensaries, explained how increasing numbers of seniors are electing to medicate with cannabis.
“More and more people are choosing cannabis in their life process, rather than morphine or some of those highly [addictive] drugs,”
Said Taylor. She continued:
“[With cannabis], they’re present. They’re present when they go over to the other side. They’re present with their families until they leave.”
Taylor explained how opiates and potent painkillers isolate patients from their families, putting them in a mental and emotional stupor that results in a metaphorical earthbound death.
“They die long before they [are] actually physically buried.”
Armed with modern search engines and broadband internet connections, many seniors have become armchair researchers, diligently investigating the specific medical benefits of the herb for their particular condition(s). As they read anecdotal testimonies from fellow patients and clinical studies from around the world, it is easy to understand how seniors, no longer burdened by the illegality of the herb in some states, are seeking out knowledge of its efficacy in record numbers. Even conservative and evangelical seniors are beginning to discover the significant health and lifestyle benefits of cannabis.
Probably the biggest appeal of cannabis for seniors is a lack of negative side effects. Aside from a possible increased appetite (beneficial for wasting syndromes and many diseases) and a small deterioration of motor skills or cognitive processes that may result from some strains, seniors can avoid the often wrenching side effects produced by mainstream medical treatments like chemotherapy and a wide range of pharmaceutical drugs.
Despite the amazing and wide ranging medicinal efficacy of cannabis for seniors, a major stumbling block exists for millions of them: The negative stigma associated with pot. Since the 1920s and the anti-cannabis campaign of Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst, several generations have been bombarded with slanted propaganda and outright lies regarding the effects of pot on the human body and behavior.
A Quinnipiac study released in February 2015 revealed that 82 percent of voters aged 18-34 favor legalization, while only 46 percent of those 55 or older do. In fact, the older the survey participant, the more likely they are to oppose cannabis legalization of any type, be it recreational or medical. The good news is that legalization in some states is encouraging many seniors to experiment with medical cannabis out of simple curiosity or even desperation. Often, a senior will be introduced to cannabis by a friend or neighbor who suggests it or shares with them — or a doctor who recommends it.
Seniors are without a doubt the most eligible group within society to take advantage of the medicinal properties of cannabis. While they must overcome the stigma that has existed for most or all of their lives, some of today’s baby boomers at least have the option of considering medical cannabis to treat their disease or condition. With a variety of forms available, from smoking and vaporizing concentrates and flowers to edibles, topicals, and tinctures, a viable solution that provides seniors with the cannabinoids and terpenes necessary to combat their disease is sometimes readily available.
The challenge now is to educate seniors about the real science of the endocannabinoid system and how cannabis is truly medicinal, while erasing decades of prohibitionist propaganda that, in many cases, is the only mental or social framework that baby boomers have known.
This post was originally published on May 22, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.