Boomers and their senior parents are the fastest-growing cohort of new or returning cannabis users, but how much do we really know about how cannabis affects aging adults?
Here are five recent medical marijuana studies focused specifically on the 50-and–over set:
Conclusion: Medical cannabis is safe and effective for elderly populations
From January 2015 to October 2017, researchers in Israel followed 2,763 patients aged 65 and up who were being treated with medical cannabis. Within the first months, 93.7 per cent reported improved conditions and reduced pain (on a scale of one to 10, the average reported pain score decreased from an eight to a four), while over 18 per cent of participants either reduced or stopped using opioids altogether. Significant side effects were minimal; less than 10 per cent reported dizziness, while a little over seven per cent reported dry mouth.
Conclusion: Daily cannabis may help reverse the effects of aging and memory loss
Fifty years ago it would be hard to imagine doctors saying cannabis is okay for anyone, let alone good for seniors, but that’s what this 2017 mouse study suggests. Published in the journal Nature Medicine, the study was designed to designed to illuminate the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and memory. The “quite staggering” results were a surprise to the researchers, who noted that after receiving small and regular doses of THC, elderly mice showed dramatic improvements in learning and memory. How dramatic were these results? University of Bonn researcher Andreas Zimmer said that the geriatric mice’s performance results were “absolutely indistinguishable” from those of their younger counterparts.
Conclusion: Cannabis doesn’t likely have widespread effects on brain structure
In the preliminary results of a University of Colorado Boulder pilot study, researchers compared MRIs of older adult cannabis users and non-users in their late 60s. The two groups were relatively similar in terms of educational attainment, alcohol use and anxiety levels, with some differences in age and depression symptoms. On average, the cannabis-consuming group reported just over 23 years’ of regular cannabis use. The study found no difference in the two groups’ cerebrospinal fluid, gray matter, white matter, or cognitive performance.
Conclusion: Older medical cannabis patients with chronic pain overwhelmingly recommend cannabis for their peers
A 2018 survey asked 138 medical cannabis patients between the ages of 61 to 70 to share their experiences with cannabis for managing chronic pain and opioid reliance. The sample size was too small to draw any sweeping conclusions, but the results generally mirrored what we’ve seen in larger studies, like the Israeli research discussed above. Eighteen per cent reported a moderate decrease in their use of opioid painkillers since starting on cannabis, while 20 per cent cited an extreme reduction, and 27 per cent said they’d eliminated opioids entirely. An overwhelming 91 per cent of those surveyed said they’d recommend medical cannabis to others.
Conclusion: Most older Americans support medical cannabis, want more research
A survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that the majority of American adults aged 50 to 80 support medical cannabis in some form, with 80 per cent saying they approve of its use when prescribed by a doctor. Sixty-four per cent of the 2,7000 retirees surveyed expressed approval for more government-funded research on medical cannabis.
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