How Safe Is Medical Marijuana for Older Adults

I read a tongue-in-cheek quip the other day
that said, “Talk with your grandparents about marijuana – before somebody else
does.” While this is clearly a clever play on the slogan from years gone by
aimed at keeping kids off drugs, it’s really not that far off the mark.

The Numbers Are

Boomers are the fastest growing group of
people using marijuana in the United States today. This shift in marijuana use
is dramatic.

Reportedly, your neighbor in your active adult community
or one of your friends from the local senior group is more likely to be
using marijuana at any given moment than your teenage grandchildren are.

Roughly nine percent of adults in the United
States aged 50 to 64, and 3% of those over 65, report using cannabis. And
before you say those numbers aren’t that high, consider that 10 years ago the number of adults between 50 and
64 reporting marijuana use was 4.5%.

Obviously, the percentage of people in that
age group admitting to using cannabis has doubled.

For those over 64, the increase in marijuana
use is almost seven-fold from where it was a decade ago. And in those states
that have legalized medical marijuana, boomers make up almost 25% of all
cannabis consumers.

So what is going on here? Have boomers decided
en masse to relive their college days by pulling out the tie-dyed
clothes, bongs, and Grateful Dead albums?

What’s Up with the
Boomer Generation?

We can surmise that some boomers probably
continued using cannabis throughout their adult years up to today.

But what is most intriguing is that many over
the age of 65 who reported using marijuana during the past year received
approval from their doctors before visiting their local medical marijuana

They also didn’t need to look very hard for a
doctor to endorse this use since roughly four of five doctors approve the use
of medical marijuana.

Moreover, boomers aren’t using medical
marijuana to “get high” but rather, to treat and get relief from a variety of
medical conditions.

From both empirical and anecdotal data, it’s safe to say that the use of medical marijuana, where it is legal, of course, is not about to go away. Medical marijuana is now permitted in 33 states, including the District of Columbia.

Medical Marijuana Is
Not the Same “Pot” You May Have Tried in College

Medical marijuana, unlike street or home-grown
versions of cannabis, is prepared from pure, uncut cannabis indica plant.

While there are over 100 different chemicals –
collectively known as cannabinoids – in marijuana, basically all but two of
them are removed from the plant, leaving only those that have medical benefit. The
first is cannabidiol (CBD) and the second is delta-9-tetrhydrocannabinol (THC).

There are a number of ways that boomers are
ingesting medical cannabis. These include the following:

  • E-cigarette device (vaping) or smoking;
  • Edibles such as gummy candies, hard tacks, or chocolate bars;
  • Topical lotions or creams (for aches);
  • Pills (two of them, Marinol and Cesamet, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help treat nausea in cancer patients);
  • Sublingual drops.

Boomers considering using medical marijuana,
after talking with a competent health care professional first, of course, are
usually counseled to use a product higher in CBD content since this is the
chemical component believed to reduce inflammation.

It is also lower in the psychoactive THC,
which is what causes the euphoria associated with marijuana use.

Reported Risks of
Medical Marijuana for Boomers

Since marijuana continues to be a controlled
and illegal substance under Federal Law, there has not been extensive research
on the medical benefits and risks of using it.

Many doctors and pharmaceutical experts tell their older patients to be careful when
using THC because it “is psychoactive and the
aging brain is more vulnerable to psychoactive drugs.”

While additional research is needed to
identify all the risks of using medical marijuana, both doctor and patient
reports have identified several important ones, including:

  • Interference with blood thinners, such as Warfarin/Coumadin;
  • Exacerbation of existing lung disease or conditions such as COPD or chronic bronchitis (from smoking marijuana);
  • Dizziness or loss of balance, which can increase the risk of falls;
  • Increased risk of accidents (around the house or while driving, for example);
  • Possible memory impairment;
  • Increased drowsiness and other side effects from alcohol and marijuana when used together;
  • Possible aggravation of existing cardiovascular problems such as arrhythmia or stroke;
  • Unanticipated interactions with other medications, supplements, or herbal remedies.

Benefits of Using
Medical Marijuana After 60

There are two reported benefits of medical
marijuana that are worth mentioning.

The first is that patients who use medical
marijuana for pain management tend to use fewer opioids, with some patients
even reporting that they were able to discontinue opioids once they began using
medical cannabis.

This “switch out” of cannabis for opioids is
supported by recent studies which have shown that Medicare prescriptions
for opioid painkillers are lower in states with medical marijuana programs.

A second claim made by proponents of medical
cannabis is that it can cost as much as a third less than prescription drugs.

What to Consider

It’s worth repeating that if you’re
considering medical marijuana to help alleviate some of the aches and pains you
get as you age, you should first talk with your doctor rather than
self-medicating. Actually, this holds true for any medication whether
prescription or over-the-counter.

You should also keep in mind that not getting
enough of the nutrients your body needs in the right amounts can impact how
well you manage pain and chronic disease, how you experience pain, and how well
you respond to various medical treatment and procedures.

So consider getting your minerals, vitamins,
and other nutrient levels checked before you talk with your physician
about medical marijuana.

For example, there is ample evidence that
nutrients like magnesium play a significant role in pain relief. And when
magnesium is combined with morphine, the pain relieving effect is even

Would you consider
using medical marijuana? Why or why not? If you have used it, what was your
experience? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.