Updated on December 28, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The golden years of a person’s life should be filled with the joy of family, the excitement of retirement and the chance to take it easy and enjoy new pursuits. Unfortunately, for many elderly, these years are tainted by chronic pain. Instead of tackling a new hobby, those who suffer from painful conditions are consumed with combatting this symptom, doctors’ visits and medical bills. But, medical marijuana could be an effective treatment for elderly pain.
Many different conditions can cause pain as a side effect, from chronic back pain and arthritis to other more serious illnesses. Though these conditions differ in severity, chronic and severe pain is a common factor.
Doctors prescribe a whole slew of medications to prevent elderly patients from experiencing this debilitating condition. But, as patients get older, it gets harder to find a prescription that will manage the pain and let them live full and active lives. Often, the side effects of the medications are so severe they’re not worth taking.
In recent years, the medical benefits of marijuana have been expounded by more than just “stoners.” Studies performed by the scientific and medical communities prove cannabis has untapped potential as an analgesic, among other things. Now that it’s legal in many states to treat several different conditions, including chronic pain, elderly patients can obtain a doctor’s recommendation to enter their state’s medical marijuana program.
Not Just for Stoners
Pot, weed, blunts — these are shocking terms to many elderly citizens, as they’re closely associated with drug use. The main obstacle keeping many senior patients from using marijuana is this stigmatization. It also doesn’t help that marijuana continues to be federally banned.
For centuries, however, the cannabis plant was used for medicinal purposes. They knew then what our generation seems to just be discovering now. It has incredible advantages when used as a medicine, such as for nausea, epilepsy and yes, as an effective treatment for pain. But because of its psychotropic side effects, many people started using it recreationally to get high. This led both the United Nations and the U.S. to declare it a Schedule I drug with no positive or medicinal benefits — but we now know that’s just not true.
Many people continued using marijuana despite it being illegal. They claimed it helped treat conditions other medications could not touch. This led to additional research studies among academics and medical professionals. Multiple case studies performed over the last several decades all agree: Medical marijuana treats pain, among other side effects of various medical conditions.
More Elderly Patients Turning to Medical Marijuana
If you’re over the age of 60 and are considering cannabis treatments, you’re not alone. In fact, elderly patients are the fastest growing demographic for medical marijuana use. And to help senior patients feel more comfortable, dispensaries in many states are making changes to cater to them. This includes:
Updated, pleasant atmospheres
Professional staff to answer questions
Informational sessions and panels
Senior citizen discounts
Assistance acquiring medical marijuana cards
The Disadvantages of Common Pain Relievers
When pain gets severe, there are only so many options. Once it becomes intractable, many doctors turn to prescription opioids. These common pain relievers act on our nervous system to give their effects. Some of the types we hear about every day include:
The list of side effects prescription opioids can cause is lengthy, including nausea, abdominal pain and other digestive issues. However, for elderly patients especially, opioids are hazardous because they increase the risk of mental confusion and falls.
One of the most troubling side effects of opioids is that patients who take them can easily become addicted. Addicts quickly develop a dependence on these drugs, until they need more and more opioids to feel the relieving properties the drug is intended to bring.
Prescription drug abuse is a chronic issue in our country. When patients become dependent on opioids, this can seriously impact their lives. Some addictions become so bad medical treatment is required to wean them off prescription opioids. In severe cases, a patient’s dependence can lead to an overdose, or even premature death.
Even patients with intractable pain that seems to be treatment-resistant are finding relief using cannabis treatments. And those who use cannabis require fewer prescriptions, saving Medicare millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on prescription drugs.
On top of being a powerful analgesic, medical marijuana helps many other symptoms that develop when patients get older, including:
The main fear for many senior citizen patients is that their medical marijuana treatments will cause them to feel “high.” Although not everyone is against this, many do not want to use medication that will alter their state of mind.
That’s why strains high in cannabidiol (CBD) tend to be the best option to treat chronic pain in elderly patients. CBD and THC are natural cannabinoids found in marijuana. These and other compounds are what give the plant many of its beneficial qualities. THC, however, is what causes the plant’s psychotropic side effects.
For those who wish to get the medicinal benefits without the high, CBD is an amazing option. It can be extracted and processed as an oil that’s perfect for patients looking for pain relief from medical marijuana. You can use it in several ways:
Capsules: Can be swallowed
Tinctures: Drops placed under the tongue
Topicals: Applied to the skin for targeted pain relief
Talk to Your Doctor About Getting a Medical Marijuana Card
If you’re interested in becoming one of the growing number of medical marijuana patients in states where the plant has been legalized for medicinal purposes, the first step is to speak to a marijuana doctor. You and your physician can discuss the benefits and risks, then decide if cannabis treatments are the right option for you.
Don’t live in pain for one more day — take the step thousands of elderly patients across the nation are taking. Use our database to find a doctor near you today.