Senior Citizens and Rapid Growth of Cannabis Consumption
It is not surprising that one of the fastest-growing population segments that have adopted medical cannabis use is seniors. Today, more than ever before, patients are educated about alternative wellness options that can help them live better lives.
Older adults may not be the largest group of cannabis consumers, but the number of seniors using cannabis is rising quickly as education about the potential benefits and mainstream availability sweeps across the United States, with states legalizing medical marijuana.
Let’s take a closer look at cannabis use among older adults and explore the reasons why seniors are embracing “the healing herb” instead of prescription or over-the-counter medications to help moderate symptoms.
How Many American Seniors Are Using Medical Cannabis?
American seniors over the age of sixty-five (65) who regularly use marijuana tripled in a decade, from 11% in 2009 to 32% in 2019. That is understandable, given most states legalized medical cannabis from 2016 to 2019 in the United States.
When legal access became available, medical cannabis use increased among patients with qualifying health conditions. In a recent Pew survey, 53% of Americans aged 65-74 supported the legalization of recreational use. However, other studies indicated that 35% of seniors considered their consumption of cannabis to be for medicinal purposes.
One study estimates that approximately 5% of all seniors in the United States currently use medical cannabis. Approximately 10% of seniors aged 60-65 years use medical marijuana regularly to help mitigate symptoms.
10 Reasons Why Seniors Are Turning to Medical Cannabis
From never admitting to ever using cannabis (despite Woodstock) to embracing it as a personal wellness alternative, opinions among older adults have certainly changed about cannabis. The presence of retail dispensaries only helps reduce the stigma about cannabis use because medical cannabis is now legalized in almost every state and has gone mainstream.
The use of cannabis is on the rise, according to new surveys and studies of American senior citizens. Here are the top ten reasons why Baby Boomers are embracing medical cannabis to improve their quality of life.
1. Pain Management
If you have experienced moderate to severe pain, you know that everything grinds to a halt. Suddenly, the daily things you do become so much harder when you have consistent pain. It impacts your ability to focus and concentrate, your mood, sleep, and more.
Research has told us that opioids are not intended for long-term use but can be effective for post-operative care, for example, for a short period of time; however, when prescription painkillers are used for long periods of time, they may amplify nerve sensitivity and exacerbate chronic pain symptoms.
Painful conditions like arthritis and neuropathy are common among the elderly population. These conditions are often incurable (chronic) and require long-term care solutions. Where opioids and prescription NSAIDs have become ineffective for pain management, marijuana products may provide better relief.
The potential to become clinically addicted to cannabis is much lower than it is for prescription drugs, with fewer adverse events for senior citizens struggling with chronic pain. Some older patients prefer a more natural approach to pain management, with better clinical outcomes assessed from doctor-supervised medical cannabis treatment plans.
2. Reducing Prescription Medication Dependency
Many Baby Boomers take one or more prescription and other medications, such as holistic or over-the-counter (OTC), for relief from symptoms. But Boomers are also aware of the negative effects of other substances, such as prescription drugs like opioids and NSAIDs.
As you get ordering, taking multiple medications becomes more difficult. Organizing those medications and guarding against contraindications (drug conflicts) can become a full-time job if you are taking a lot of them.
Seniors want to minimize their reliance on pharmaceutical drugs that can cause side effects and potential risks of addiction. Many senior citizens view cannabis as a safer, natural option to help them manage discomfort, low mood, and insomnia. Many seniors also use doctor-supervised medical cannabis to improve chronic pain control.
3. Improved Sleep Quality and Combating Insomnia
You sleep like a rock your entire life and then find yourself struggling with chronic insomnia in your senior years. It is not your imagination but well documented in scientific studies; the physiologic changes that occur naturally with age, environmental conditions, and chronic illnesses and symptoms all contribute to increased rates of insomnia among older adults.
Many Baby Boomers consume cannabis to help them get a restorative night of sleep. Cannabis can be very effective for some people who struggle with insomnia. Regular cannabis users share that it can help reduce problems with insomnia.
Because chronic diseases and symptoms happen more often in older adults, sleep can be disrupted. For example, pain, osteoarthritis, edema, anxiety, other psychiatric conditions, bladder control, as well as sleep disruptions from menopause may all contribute to chronic insomnia.
As we get older, establishing regular quality sleep becomes more difficult, and more than half of American seniors may struggle with sleep disorders. Medical cannabis use among older adults for insomnia is very common, according to survey data from several recent studies.
4. Mood Enhancement
Changes in hormones for both men and women can cause mood variances that are abnormal for senior citizens. The elderly population has a higher rate of mental health conditions than young adults due to mobility challenges, a sedentary lifestyle, and other health-related quality-of-life changes.
For mental health needs, it is important for senior citizens to be socially active with family, friends, or within their community. Often, cannabis affects older Americans in positive ways by providing temporary relief from symptoms of pain, anxiety, and depression.
Cannabis users can explore strains that can elevate mood and provide temporary relief from chronic fatigue as well. Typically, Sativa dominant strains with high cannabidiol (CBD) ratios are best for creating feelings of energy, positive mood, and sociability.
Seniors should consult with a physician to discuss cannabis drug use and health risks associated with medication conflicts. For example, some types of depression and anxiety medications, like SSRIs, conflict with cannabis, so consultation with a cannabis health care provider is vital. Particularly for patients with a past year use of psychotropic medications, steroids, and
5. Inflammation Control
Chronic inflammation is a factor in many age-related diseases. Cannabinoids in cannabis have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help mitigate inflammation. The best cannabis strains have a high ratio of cannabidiol (CBD) because they can provide benefits that senior citizens enjoy.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and it is non-psychoactive. If you take a daily CBD supplement, you may help moderate inflammation naturally without feeling impaired.
Consequently, when a cannabis product is made with a strain that has high levels of CBD, it subdues some of the unwanted effects of cannabis, such as impairment to physical and cognitive functioning, paranoia, and other unwanted effects of marijuana use.
6. Appetite Stimulation
There are a variety of reasons why appetite may decline among older adults, including symptoms of chronic non cancer pain, neuropathy, edema, arthritis, and other conditions. When you struggle with pain on a daily basis, it can suppress your appetite, and if you live alone, it can make meal preparation hard.
Certain types of prescription drugs can also reduce appetite. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety may also impact hunger or appetite. Certain strains of medical cannabis can trigger hunger and cravings and may also make food more pleasurable to eat.
7. Managing Neurological Conditions
The incident rates of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s are higher among older adults. Strains that are high in CBD may help mitigate symptoms of neurological disorders and provide relief. Some studies also suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) may help slow disease progression.
8. Ease of Access
While older adults have Medicare coverage that helps reduce the cost of healthcare, there are still out-of-pocket costs for prescription medications and physician appointments. Medicaid and medical marijuana use data is limited, but some studies suggest that cannabis use may reduce healthcare costs for patients who have a medical card.
With the expanding legalization of medical cannabis, it is more accessible to seniors from licensed dispensaries. In many locations, medical cannabis dispensaries can arrange delivery instead of pick-up for products. This can also help senior citizens who have transportation or mobility obstacles.
9. Social Acceptance
American senior citizens and Baby Boomers grew up through decades of harsh cannabis prohibition. Starting in the 1930s, cannabis was propagandized to socially deter people from using it. The legal penalties for possession also became more severe.
You cannot underestimate the powerful stigma that was created regarding cannabis use through the 1950s as well. Narratives such as “only bad people or criminals use cannabis,” as well as racial stereotypes aimed at supporting prejudice against black and brown Americans.
Since the legalization and availability of medical cannabis have evolved, the stigma (while still there) is an echo of what it once was. People no longer feel like they are doing something wrong if they use medical cannabis. To a great extent, recreational use has also been stigmatized, thanks to the growing number of states in America that are legalizing it.
The societal attitudes about cannabis have shifted to the point where people using it for medicinal purposes do not feel that they need to hide it anymore. Cannabis “came out of the closet” when retail locations began popping up across the country. That has made senior citizens feel much more comfortable about using medical marijuana as a wellness alternative rather than considering it an illegal drug.
10. Improved Quality of Living
If you are an individual who has suffered from a debilitating symptom or condition, finding relief is the top priority because pain and discomfort can have a detrimental impact on your quality of life. Since chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, and other mental health issues like depression can be common among older adults, marijuana use may be viewed as a helpful solution.
Senior citizens face mobility issues as well as higher rates of chronic disease diagnosis compared to young adults. By helping to better moderate pain and other chronic symptoms, it can allow seniors to remain socially and physically active, which can also greatly improve their quality of life.
Types of Intake Methods That Are Popular With Senior Citizens
Smokable cannabis is the least popular intake method among American seniors. Instead, data suggests that seniors are more likely to purchase tinctures and administer accurate doses through sublingual uptake. That is, oral administration of cannabis oil that passes directly into the bloodstream.
Where available, edibles are also another preferred consumption method for seniors. There are a variety of different edible products, from hard candies to gummies, beverage powders, and more. Medical cannabis inhalers are also popular for precision dosing, shelf life, and ease of use.
Should You Sidebar Marijuana Use With Senior Parents?
Suppose you have noticed that a parent or grandparent is struggling with chronic pain control or other debilitating symptoms. In that case, it may be a good time to have a conversation about medical marijuana use. Often, seniors may feel hesitant to broach the topic, even if they are interested in exploring cannabis use for symptom relief.
There are many reasons why there is a growing interest among seniors regarding medical cannabis. You can advocate for your loved one by explaining how cannabis works and suggesting a trial to see if their symptom management improves using medical marijuana.
Some of the topics you can share with seniors include:
- The process of getting a medical card.
- Where and how to purchase cannabis products.
- The potential safety risks regarding prescription drugs and cannabis.
- How effective cannabis can be for patients with chronic conditions.
A cannabis healthcare provider can be a valuable resource for patients who are new to using medical marijuana and help by providing product, dose, potency, and strain recommendations tailored specifically for the senior’s needs.
Aaron Bloom serves as the CEO, overseeing the mission and growth of DocMJ and Medwell Health and Wellness Centers. Aaron’s passion for improving patients’ lives comes from his background in health care. For more than 20 years, Aaron owned, operated, and represented traditional healthcare organizations. This experience created a passion for finding improved ways to relieve suffering. His goal as CEO is to work daily to relieve all patients who seek better health and wellness through the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis and evidence-based alternative medicines.