As America’s largest generation history heads into retirement, marijuana use has increased among baby boomers looking to alleviate the common burdens of aging. Avoiding the overuse of opioid pain medications, a lot of them are turning to a more natural form of symptom relief – cannabis.
“Number one is arthritis,” said Sue Taylor, 68, who uses topical cannabis products to ease her arthritis pain, and edibles for better sleep.
“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. It has the consistency of a gummy and I use it for sleep and pain when I need to.”
Arthritis afflicts people of all ages, but the risk for the disease increases as a person ages. Nearly half of all seniors report arthritis symptoms to their doctor. Reportedly, 78 million Americans will have arthritis by 2040.
“First of all, there is increasing evidence that cannabis is helpful in the management of certain kinds of pain,”
said Dr. Igor Grant, who chairs the Department of Psychology at UCSD and is one of the few researchers to receive government funding for cannabis research. Senior citizens often suffer from pain caused by chemotherapy, diabetes, as well as arthritis.
“An interesting question is, if people are prescribed cannabis, does that have then an opioid-sparing effect?” Dr. Grant asked. “Because again, for chronic pain we do use opioids — Vicodin and drugs like this.” Seniors are prone to accidental overdoses, since they are often taking several prescription medications, the most common being blood thinners and diabetes medications. When those are improperly dosed alongside opioids prescribed for pain, the side effects can be fatal.
When asked if medical marijuana could be an alternative to opioids, Grant responded, “Right, or lessen the requirement. We need studies to understand that. But I think the preliminary evidence suggests that may be true.”
Old assumptions suggested that seniors were not in support of legal cannabis. Colorado governor John Hickenlooper shared this view, and has since changed his own view on legalization. “The perception against legalizing marijuana [was], you know, historically in this state when we passed it, seniors were probably the most adamant against it. And if more are using it, then that probably is going to change,” said Hickenlooper. “For seniors that want to, kind of, relax and don’t want to use alcohol, this is a choice maybe that they will embrace more than others.”
The Baby Boomer generation has encountered multiple anti-cannabis campaigns. “Reefer Madness,” debuted in the 1930’s, and this sentiment was passed on from parents to Boomers. Richard Nixon’s war on drugs would hit Boomers in the 1970’s, and purposefully targeted the hippie lifestyle, as well as African Americans and liberal groups opposed to the war in Vietnam. Remnants of these conservative political efforts exists today through anti-legalization efforts and legislation that disproportionately punishes African Americans. Although 60 percent of Americans support legalization, asking an aging generation to disregard decades of anti-marijuana dogma may be unrealistic.
Perhaps baby boomers may not fully support cannabis culture or fully-legalized marijuana, but their aches and pains may be adjusting their political beliefs. “Seniors don’t want to get high; they want to get well,” said Taylor. “And the cannabis helps.”
As America’s Baby Boomer generation heads into their golden years, healthcare is becoming one of the most pressing issues of our times. Both Medicare and Social Security face significant challenges in the coming years. Medicare’s hospital trust will be exhausted by 2026 and Social Security is not far behind, predicted to run out by 2033. It remains to be seen what impact Obamacare can have on the healthcare system, but most Americans understand that there are still significant hurdles in the future.
As the ever-growing senior population continues to climb, these individuals often rely on overprescribed pharmaceuticals (namely opiates) to help them through their later years. The number of opiate prescriptions in the United States skyrocketed to 207 million in 2013, with 55 million of those going to seniors aged 65 and older. Though pain relief is critical in the care of our elderly, these prescriptions have proven to be the among the most dangerous for society. The risk vs. reward analysis continues to show us that cannabis is a viable alternative to prescription opiates.
With 23 states now allowing medical marijuana, seniors are increasingly realizing the efficacy of marijuana for the treatment of pain, nausea, inflammation and dozens of other symptoms. While traction at the federal level is moving slowly, the cannabis industry is extending open arms to elders with senior outreach programs and educational efforts.
Whether you’re entering the golden years yourself or your parents or grandparents are getting older, it’s imperative to know every option available to preserve health and comfort. Here is a list of 4 ways cannabis can help common conditions as we age:
Last year Arthritis Today published an article discussing the efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of arthritis. Though some doctors remain skeptical, the bottom line for those suffering from arthritis is finding the medicine that works.
Dr. Fitzcharles, associate professor of medicine in the department of rheumatology and pain management unit at McGill University in Montreal said, “There’s no question that cannabinoids have the potential to have an impact on the disease.” The risk vs. reward may be still in limbo for some, but those who benefit from the plant would likely tell you there is no argument to be had.
Chronic pain comes in many forms, is caused by an endless list of medical conditions, and affects each individual differently. Marijuana may not work for every type of chronic pain, but has proven extremely effective in treating pain associated with multiple sclerosis or nerve injuries.
When compared to opiates in the treatment of pain, it’s becoming ever-more clear that marijuana is the safer option. Between the years of 1999 and 2010, states that had medical marijuana programs in place showed 25% decrease in the number of deaths caused by prescription pain killers. As the evidence in favor of medical marijuana mounts, more people are likely to use cannabis as an alternative to opiates.
Memory & Brain Function
A decline in cognitive function may be one of the most painful and saddening conditions that can afflict the elderly. Recent studies have indicated that there may be promise in the use of cannabis to preserve memory and brain function.
In a 2006 study by Dr. Kim Janda, his team’s research showed that cannabis may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, when compared to popular alzeimer’s drugs like Aricept and Cognex, the use of THC marginally outperformed both pharmaceuticals. There is still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and research has proven to be difficult. With limited options available, further research is needed to say whether cannabis can be the magic bullet for the disease.
Everyone knows that marijuana use stimulates the appetite, but not so many realize how valuable that can be in a medical context. For anyone unfamiliar with the effects of dialysis or chemotherapy, these treatments cause debilitating nausea and subsequent loss of appetite.
A recent study has validated what we already know about marijuana use, it effects our endocannabinoid system, heightening our sense of smell and taste. These effects are invaluable to those undergoing intense cancer treatments and dialysis, spurring appetite and easing nausea.
Photo Credit: Mini B.