Is Cannabis Right for My Aging Parents?

byhellomd4 minutes

Many adult children and caregivers wonder if medical cannabis can help aged parents cope with different health issues. Increasingly the answer is yes or an open-minded maybe.

Caregivers are heartened by the fact that many seniors themselves seem to have gotten over the stigma of using cannabis and are now at least open to the possibility. For example, 70-something Carol Collin starting eating cannabis gummies two years ago for her problems sleeping.

“I am an absolute chronic insomniac. I have been ever since I was a little tiny child — it just drives me crazy,” Collin says. “I take this little cube and it just makes me drowsy so I can sleep and doesn't leave me groggy in the morning.”

She also uses a topical cream that contains both THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana — and CBD, the non-impairing compound in the plant often used in medicinal marijuana — for pain relief.

More doctors are also seeing cannabis health benefits for seniors. In a Harvard Health blog post last April, Dr. Peter Grinspoon reports that in his practice he has seen an increased number of elderly patients coming to speak to them about using cannabis for different medical issues.

He writes: “These patients range from people in their 60s with kidney failure who can no longer take certain pain medications but still need to manage chronic pain, to patients in their 90s, who are looking for a good night’s sleep and are leery of the side effects of traditional sleep medications. Some of them — typically ‘children of the 60s’ — are quite comfortable with the idea of using medical marijuana; others bring it up quietly as if they are asking permission to break the law.”

Cannabis May Help with Certain Senior Health Conditions

Dr. Grinspoon says that there is some evidence to suggest that medical marijuana can help with conditions that include: pain, insomnia, neuropathy, and anxiety.

Aging.com — a site with resources devoted to senior independent living, health care, and financial issues — provides an even more comprehensive list of the potential health benefits of cannabis, including for:

  • Cancer: Some studies show that smoking marijuana can help with nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients. And cannabis may have benefits for palliative patients. Ongoing studies in animals and humans are looking at how medical cannabis can help treat tumors as well as the symptoms and illness that come with cancer.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia: Results from one study “strongly suggest that THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions and pathways.”
  • General Pain: Medical marijuana, whether it’s smoked, consumed or applied as a topical treatment, can possibly help relieve acute and chronic pain, including joint pain (like that experienced with arthritis), nerve damage and chronic illness.
  • Anxiety/Mental Health Disorders: Animal studies have shown that cannabinol (CBD), can help treat anxiety and other mental health issues, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, moderate depression and general anxiety.
  • Eating Disorders: Eating disorders are often treated with antidepressants and antipsychotics, but elderly patients often report their symptoms worsening after taking them. Some doctors may view medical cannabis as a safer way of treating eating disorders.
  • Glaucoma: This condition is the leading cause of blindness for people over 60. While doctors usually prescribe drops to relieve eye pressure from this condition, there’s evidence to suggest that medical cannabis can also relieve pressure for hours at a time.

Care Must be Taken Giving Cannabis to Seniors

However, both Dr. Grinspoon and Aging.com point out that the evidence for the health benefits of cannabis is far from complete. More conclusive research needs to be done, and great care has to be taken in providing medical marijuana to elderly patients.

“This is new territory, as either there haven’t been large numbers of older adults who report using medical cannabis. . . .” writes Dr. Grinspoon. “Medical cannabis is typically well tolerated among older adults; however, as with all medications, there is no such thing as a free lunch, meaning that there are always side effects and downsides to consider.”

On its site, Ottawa Public Health provides a cannabis information page for older adults. It points out there is limited evidence to suggest that medical marijuana may be beneficial for:

  • Nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy
  • Muscle contractions or stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Chronic neuropathic pain
  • Palliative and end-of-life pain

However, it also sounds a lot of warning bells. It talks about how the aging process can affect the ways in which seniors respond to cannabis. For example, lower kidney function can affect how drugs, including cannabis, are cleared out of the body, and poor lung health and lung disease can be adversely affected if cannabis is smoked or vaped.

Seniors with heart conditions, such as arrhythmia, angina, heart attack or stroke, are put at greater risk smoking cannabis, because it can raise the heart rate and blood pressure.

When using cannabis with higher THC content, seniors will probably find that it affects how their brains work, changing how they think, feel and act. Memory, and the ability to concentrate and make decisions can all be altered.

Since many older adults experience loneliness, isolation, depression or loss, using cannabis to cope with such conditions could worsen mental health problems wose.

Finally, elderly patients and their caregivers and healthcare providers need to be aware of how medical cannabis may affect how seniors’ other prescription medications work.

Speak to a Healthcare Professional

If seniors or their caregivers have questions cannabis conflicts with existing prescription medications, they should consult with their doctors or an experienced healthcare professional.

At Medical Cannabis by Shoppers, you can arrange a free phone consultation with a health practitioner, in your own home, telling you everything you need to know about possible prescription drug interactions, or how cannabis may be able to alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis, anxiety, depression, insomnia, cancer and others.

With more information you have at your disposal, the better equipped you are to help an elderly loved one address health issues and achieve a better quality of life.