Many cannabis clinics within Canada have seen an uptick in geriatric patients who use the medication to treat a slew of medical conditions.
They present to the clinic with pathologies ranging from chronic pain to Parkinson’s. Many of these patients tend to be novice users, only experimenting with cannabis once or twice in their younger years, but not being exposed to it since then.
Naturally, these patients are hesitant in beginning a new treatment as they are already on multiple medications and are nervous about the plant’s interaction with them.
This growing trend we see in seniors beg the question: what makes cannabis so effective in geriatric patients? Will geriatric medicine embrace cannabis as a viable treatment for its patients? First, let us take a brief look at the many conditions elderly patients use cannabis for.
Conditions cannabis is indicated in
Cancer is a disease that plagues so many senior citizens due to the sheer process of aging and cells changing as we change. These cells can change into mutations that usually cause cancer in many seniors.
Cancers can range from colorectal, breast, prostate, and lung. Free radicals, which are chemicals made by the body increase as we age and can also contribute to the formations of cancers. Many geriatric patients are encouraged to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to avoid triggers like alcohol and tobacco.
Cannabis can help these patients battling cancer to manage their symptoms. Nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy can be extremely uncomfortable for many patients, and cannabis has shown to ease the sensation. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive part of cannabis, has shown promising results in shrinking tumor cells. However, a high percentage of THC is needed and physicians are usually hesitant in prescribing patients these amounts.
Many senior citizens also suffer from aches and pains, mainly due to osteoarthritis and nerve damage. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been proven to help ease these pains by acting upon the endocannabinoid receptors in the body through the endocannabinoid system.
What’s even more interesting is that cannabis, in this case, does not need to be ingested. Many patients have used ointments and creams topically and have reported their symptoms have been alleviated.
Using cannabis to treat pain can also help with the nation-wide opioid crisis that has taken and ruined many lives. It limits physicians across the country from prescribing multiple narcotics which can cause addictions and accidental overdoses when combined with substances like alcohol.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are also two diseases which affect the elderly population and many patients have turned to medical cannabis to help with their symptoms. Cannabis helps with the associated symptoms of depression and loss of appetite that usually manifests in degenerative brain disease.
New studies have also shown that the THC in cannabis may have the potential to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. THC seems to slow the advancement of beta-amyloid, which are proteins that build up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. If cannabis can slow the growth of these proteins, it has the potential to slow the development of Alzheimer’s in vulnerable patients.
Many elderly patients also suffer from mental disorders like anxiety and depression, and cannabis has been indicated in both of these conditions. Studies have shown CBD to be especially beneficial in treating patients suffering from these disorders.
CBD is shown to increase serotonin reuptake in the brain, which can elevate a patient’s mood and stabilize it. Antidepressant medications like Wellbutrin and Lorazepam essentially do the same thing, but with many side effects attached to them.
It is to be noted, however, that cannabis with THC does have the potential to cause a panic attack, so many elderly patients are encouraged to use CBD only when using for mental disorders. Many cannabis clinics advise patients to use cannabis oils and to titrate using the slogan “start low and go slow”.
Cannabis is also indicated for use in patients with glaucoma. Glaucoma is a condition that can lead to loss of eyesight in patients over the age of sixty where fluid builds up and damages the nerves in the cornea. Cannabis seems to help patients relieve this pressure for hours at a time.
Why elderly patients turn to cannabis
Many geriatric patients also use cannabis to help with insomnia instead of using sleeping pills which can cause extreme grogginess. Many patients also boast of having more energy after a good night’s rest after using cannabis.
The reason why more and more seniors are turning to cannabis for the treatment of their conditions is that they want alternative ways to consume medications. Many of these patients take 10-15 pills per day and turn to cannabis as a last resort of sorts. When they discover it is safer than most narcotics and benzodiazepines, they are even more compelled to try the medication.
Cost, however, does seem to be a deterrent for many patients as cannabis can run them hundreds of dollars per month and it is not covered yet by any insurance. However, with more insurance companies starting to understand the benefits of the plant and covering it, patients are attracted to the drug and are interested in trying it.
Though some physicians are embracing the substance as a viable treatment, many of them are still yet not ready to prescribe to their patients. Geriatric medicine does not recognize cannabis as a proper treatment as yet, but with more patients starting a trial of the drug and finding relief, doctors will have no choice in the future to accept the drug.