The Land O’Lakes, Fla., residents had both undergone recent major surgeries, so they gave in to their daughter’s suggestion to use the drug to treat chronic pain. Rene liked how edibles helped her sleep through the night and avoid the use of other medications.
As seniors, the couple is in good company. Marijuana use is on the rise among older adults.
Last year, the proportion of adults 65 or older who reported recent cannabis use jumped by 18%, according to the recently released 2020 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, rising from 5.1% in 2019 to 6% in 2020.
The rise comes on the heels of a steady trend of increased cannabis use among seniors over the last five years. In more than half of the country, including Florida, use of cannabis for medical purposes is legal.
More research is needed on the impacts of marijuana use on older adults.
Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, a professor of neurology at the University of South Florida, said studies show marijuana may help reduce symptoms like insomnia and irritability in Alzheimer’s patients, improve motor symptoms from Parkinson’s, diminish arthritic pain and combat sleep disorders, conditions that are all common among older adults.
Too high a dose of THC can cause confusion and short-term memory problems in older adults, however, Sanchez-Ramos said. CBD in excess doses can in turn interact with the metabolism of other drugs in the system, so it’s important for seniors to consult with their doctor before using cannabis products.
Both THC and CBD are compounds found in cannabis. Sanchez-Ramos said he still recommends more traditional treatments before referring patients to a cannabis expert.
“This is basically an alternative treatment for when individuals aren’t doing well with the standard pharmaceuticals,” he said. “In some people, it may be actually much better, but it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.”