The use of medicinal marijuana has been increasing worldwide of recent and a recent study from the European Journal of Internal Medicine reported that older adults, in particular, are a growing market. The use of marijuana among of the older population can range from 7% to more than a third of medicinal cannabis patients depending on the country. A research in 2017 further supported this when it revealed that medicinal marijuana use in people over 50 years old of age had increased significantly and was outpacing the recent growth observed across all other age groups.
Current use of medical marijuana
Medicinal marijuana has been used for a range of health conditions including: chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia nervosa, anxiety, dementia, dystonia, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, Tourette syndrome and epilepsy.
Benefits of marijuana for older people
Much research has been published by the medicinal marijuana industry on the benefits of medicinal marijuana for older people some if which may include: easing chronic pain, especially pain caused by nerve damage, reducing nausea and vomiting (specifically for people undergoing chemotherapy), lower levels of anxiety, improvement in sleep and relief from painful muscle spasms triggered by conditions such as multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries just to name a few.
It should be noted that older people have also been identified as being very interested in using medicinal marijuana for the treatment and relief of pain triggered by various conditions.
However, the evidence that exist about medicinal marijuana for pain though it is not very substantial. A Cochrane systematic review revealed that the level of evidence was too low to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of medicinal marijuana as well as the ability of patients to tolerate any side effects that accompany marijuana use.
Some Side effects of marijuana
Like all conventional medicines, medicinal marijuana can trigger unwanted side effects, which may include: problems concentrating, dizziness and drowsiness, unsteadiness, fatigue and sedation, feelings of euphoria, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, depression, confusion, appetite increase or decrease, hallucinations, paranoid delusions, dry mouth, psychosis, cognitive distortion (having untrue thoughts), and convulsions.
However, the extent to which these side effects occur depends on the individuals and the type of medicinal marijuana product being prescribed. It should be noted that THC is the chemical compound that produces the ‘High’’ in marijuana and as such products with high THC content produce more side effects than products with high levels of CBD which is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid.
Risks associated with marijuana use by older people
The risks associated with the use of medicinal marijuana by older people are aggravated by factors such as slow drug metabolism and interaction with other drugs. This is due to the fact older people take several prescription drugs and it is still unclear how medicinal marijuana may interact with these drugs. Research suggests that the use of Medicinal marijuana can increase the risk of injury among those in the older population. A research conducted in 2017 revealed that marijuana use increased injury among older people which resulted in more attendances at emergency departments. Older people may also be at an increased risk of car accidents and falls due to cannabis use; however, the scientific evidence for this is scarce. The effects of cannabis including sedation and cognitive changes can have significant consequences for older drivers.8
The use of any drugs including marijuana by the older adult population can also increase is risk of falls.
However it should be noted that the risk associated with use of marijuana are minimal and can easily be controlled when compared to those associated with prescribtion medications.
Take home message
Research on medical marijuana has made the interest in it by older people considerable, but there is a substantial need to better explore the potential benefits, limitations and safety issues associated with medicinal marijuana treatment across an array of health conditions and symptoms. However the lack of high-quality evidence to support the effectiveness of medicinal marijuana doesn’t rule out the fact that, in some cases, it may provide health benefits for certain older people.