Is Medical Cannabis Safe for Older Adults?

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailReddit

Is Cannabis safe for seniors

Curious about cannabis? You're not alone,

Cannabis use among older adults 65 and older, is skyrocketing in the United States. In fact, it's the fastest growing segment of cannabis users in the country.

Why are seniors turning to cannabis? It's not for recreational use - senior aren't looking to get high. Seniors are hoping cannabis can help treat their medical conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia and neuropathy and there's growing research that cannabis can help.

In fact, AARP itself has come out and stated that it supports "the medical use of marijuana for older adults in states that have legalized it. The decision was based on the growing body of research suggesting marijuana may be helpful in treating certain medical conditions and symptoms."

However, despite most states having legalized cannabis, many doctors remain reluctant to prescribe cannabis in their treatment plans because they have not been trained in how to prescribe cannabis. As a result, they're not familiar with strains, form factors, dosages or titration.

There is also concern that there is not enough evidence based research to support the use of cannabis in many areas in which its proponents claim it's helpful.

Is Cannabis Safe?

In general, according to one Harvard article, "medical cannabis is typically well tolerated among older adults; however, as with all medication... there are always side effects and downsides to consider."

The World Health Organization has stated that cannabis is a "relatively safe drug".

However, there are some known risk factors, and some others that require more research.

Tips for Using Cannabis Safely

While there is a lack of clinical level research out there, after several years of older adult usage of legal medical cannabis, some recommendations for safety have started to emerge.

  • High CBD - Low THC: After working with seniors taking cannabis for the last 3 years, Danielle Fixen, a pharmacist at the UCHealth Seniors Clinic at the Anschutz Medical Campus recommends "if seniors are going to use marijuana, they should look for forms that contain a higher CBD component, as it does not have psychoactive properties (won't make you high) like THC."

  • Don't Smoke it: Fixen also recommends older adults avoid smoking marijuana, and instead consider edibles or droplets. Not only is smoking bad for your lungs, its harder to control dosages.

  • Start low and go slow: She also recommends something we've heard quite a bit "start low and go slow." Start with a low dose, and increase the dosage slowly, if need be.

Severe Contraindications:

Personality Disorders and Psychoses

Due to THC's psychotropic effects, cannabis is not recommended for those who have a personal history or family history of personality disorders, psychiatric disorders, psychoses or schizophrenia.

One should also be cautious if you have a mood or anxiety disorder. Low doses tend to reduce anxiety (anxiolytic), however higher doses it can have the opposite effect (anxiogenic) and cause panic attacks.

Less Severe Contraindications

Heart Health

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology has not seen "much, if any, quality evidence directly linking cannabis use with coronary events." However, some worry that an older patient with coronary disease who takes a high dosage of cannabis, could trigger an anxiety attack, which could trigger a coronary event.

In addition, those with sever cardio-pulmonary disease with low blood pressure or high blood pressure, syncope or tachycardia should not take cannabis. Cannabis may exacerbate arrhythmia or a history of arrhythmias.

Respiratory disease

Those with asthma or COPD should not smoke marijuana. In most cases seniors are recommended a sublingual as an alternative.

Liver or Renal Disease

Those with severe liver or renal disease, including chronic hepatitis C should avoid cannabis.

Medication Conflicts

Medical cannabis should not be used with anti-seizure medications or with blood thinners.

Great additional reading

If you're looking for additional information, here's a great reading list to help get you started:

1. https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2019/basics-on-medical-marijuana.html

2. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/07/health/seniors-marijuana-cannabis-pain.html

3. https://www.uchealth.org/today/is-marijuana-safe-for-older-adults/

3. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/cannabis/health-effects.html

4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/medical-marijuana-facts-about-cannabis-thc-and-cbd

5. https://doh.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/doh/publication/attachments/Medical%20Cannabis%20Adverse%20Effects%20and%20Drug%20Interactions_0.pdf