Updated on June 28, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
As many people age, their appetites change. Some seniors find themselves wanting to eat less as they get older, but — everyone needs proper nutrition, especially elderly patients, who have a higher vulnerability to disease. Seniors with appetite problems and their caregivers may benefit from the appetite-boosting properties of cannabis. We may joke about the “munchies” from time to time, but this effect can be helpful. Find out how elderly patients can increase their appetites using medical marijuana.
The Main Causes of Appetite Issues in Seniors
You or your loved one could have a low appetite because of:
Changes in taste and smell: As someone’s senses age, food begins to taste different than before. Medications can also affect how food tastes.
Dental and mobility issues: For patients with motor problems or without teeth, eating food gets difficult.
Lower caloric needs: Many seniors do less physical activity than younger people. They may also have lower metabolic rates, so these patients don’t need as many calories.
Mood disorders: The major life transitions that happen in older years can cause depression or anxiety. Both disorders can reduce appetite.
Elderly anorexia: Anorexia can occur as a psychological disorder or a symptom of a disease. A staggering 78% of anorexia-related deaths happen to the elderly.
Medical conditions and treatments: End-of-life illnesses like cancer can cause appetite loss. Treatments like chemotherapy also lower the appetite.
Not every reason behind elderly appetite loss indicates a problem. Sometimes, it’s just a normal part of aging. But, you should always get in touch with a doctor if you or your loved one has appetite issues. This symptom could come from a serious condition or cause problems if it becomes severe.
Issues Caused by a Low Appetite
When you leave senior appetite issues unaddressed, it could result in problems such as:
Undetected illness: If you don’t treat appetite loss as a potential issue, you could miss an underlying illness that needs immediate treatment.
Difficulty recovering from an illness: A lack of nutrition makes it harder for the body to fight back against medical conditions. Patients with disorders like cachexia especially need the nutrients.
Eating disorders: When an appetite issue has a cause other than anorexia, it can still predispose someone to an eating disorder.
Muscle weakness: Weak muscles increase an elderly patient’s risk of accidents and falls. A fall can seriously harm a senior patient, especially if they are already frail.
Higher risk of hospitalization and death: Malnutrition statistically increases the chance of a senior going to the hospital or dying.
Many of these problems may seem alarming. However, early detection and treatment can prevent them from happening in the first place.
How Medical Marijuana Can Help
Cannabis medicine often works as an appetite stimulant by:
Changing anandamide levels: A hormone called leptin normally tells the body to stop eating when someone eats enough food. But, leptin can also make these signals even when someone doesn’t eat enough food. It suppresses important anandamide signals that make you feel hungry. As an endocannabinoid, anandamide works with your cannabinoid receptors. Using cannabis medicine sends compounds that resemble anandamide to your receptors, counteracting leptin.
Boosting ghrelin: Your body communicates hunger using a hormone called ghrelin. Marijuana medicine encourages your body to make more ghrelin, making you feel hungry.
Increasing taste and smell: If a patient has appetite issues because of their senses, cannabis medicine may help. It makes your sense of smell stronger. When you have an enhanced sense of smell, your sense of taste also improves.
Enhancing dopamine production: Dopamine creates positive feelings and associations in our brains. When you use medical marijuana, your brain makes more dopamine, potentially giving you positive reinforcement when you eat.
Cannabis medicine enhances the treatment experience for patients and caregivers alike thanks to benefits such as:
Many ways to take it: Medical marijuana goes far beyond joints and edibles. For instance, there are also pills, topicals and more.
Relief of multiple symptoms: The compounds in cannabis relieve a full spectrum of conditions, so one dose can treat more than one symptom at the same time. Medical marijuana has the capacity to tackle co-morbid health issues in one product.
Mild side effects: Cannabis medication has side effects just like any other kind of medicine. However, medical marijuana side effects may not pose as much danger as the side effects of prescription drugs.
Suitable for patients of all abilities: Seniors have unique abilities and disabilities that influence their treatment. Some patients with dementia panic when they see a pill or syrup. In this scenario, the caregiver can mix a tincture or oil into their food to avoid stressing them out. Patients with mobility problems can use an administration method that works with their abilities.
Get a Consultation or Examination
A marijuana-positive doctor can give you and your loved ones information about cannabis medicine without bias. They understand medical cannabis’ legitimacy as a medicine, and they have the evidence to back it up. Whether you have questions or need a medical marijuana card, these physicians will happily lend a hand. Browse our directory of doctors today to find a practice in your area. Choose “geriatric medicine specialist” or “geriatrician” from the “specialty” drop-down menu for geriatric medicinal cannabis care.