Seniors Turning to Medical Cannabis to Treat Common Issues

A new survey has found that more seniors than ever are using medical cannabis to treat a variety of ailments and conditions, including helping them better manage pain and get better sleep. The survey also reported that more than half of respondents use medical cannabis on a daily or weekly basis.

Researchers at the University of California – San Diego and New York University conducted interviews with 568 adults, all of the age 65 and older. Of those interviewed, 53% reported using cannabis regularly on a daily or weekly basis. The majority (78%) used cannabis for medical purposes only.

Most older adults “used it primarily for medical purposes to treat pain, sleep disturbance, anxiety, and/or depression,’ the researchers wrote. “Cannabis use by older adults is likely to increase due to medical need, favorable legalization, and attitudes.”

What Are the Common Uses of Medical Cannabis for Seniors?

The report found four conditions or symptoms as the most targeted by seniors who use cannabis: pain/arthritis (73%), sleep disturbance (29%), anxiety (24%) and depression (17%).

More than three-quarters of the seniors reported that cannabis is “somewhat” or “extremely” helpful to them in managing one of these conditions. They also reported few adverse effects.

Slightly more than half purchased their medical cannabis at a dispensary. The most used forms of cannabis products included lotions (35%), tinctures (35%) and flower for smoking (30%). Interestingly, more seniors reported telling their family members (94%) than their healthcare providers (41%)  about their cannabis use. About 41% also reported telling their friends.

More Seniors Than Ever Use Medical Cannabis

Writing about the study and the use of cannabis by seniors, the New York Times reported that the number of seniors who now report using cannabis had increased dramatically. The Times reported that in 2007, about 0.4% of people 65 and older in the United States reported using cannabis in the past year. That number rose to almost 3% by 2016. As of 2022, it had reached 8%.

One senior who spoke to the Times about her medical cannabis use said she used cannabis recreationally throughout her life. But her husband began using medical cannabis to help him sleep after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Both are in their 70s.

“I have had dozens of patients who tell me that it has cured their various ailments,” Dr. Haley V. Solomon, a geriatric psychiatrist in San Diego, told the Times. “I think that it’s really important to listen to them, to acknowledge that and then to study it further.”

She added that older adults should remain aware of potential drug interactions and also consider how cannabis can affect cognition, coordination and balance.

As the researchers noted in the study, something has shifted among seniors when it comes to cannabis use. They reported that unlike the woman interviewed by the Times, 61% of seniors interviewed used cannabis for the first time as older adults at the age of 61, or older.

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