While my own grandmother goes into a wild panic at the thought of vaping lavender
, a significant percentage of seniors are beginning to consider trading in their opiates for cannabis. A study published in 2016 used a survey of nearly 50,000 participants to determine that people over the age of 65 had shown a 250% increase in marijuana usage.
A CDC report published the same year showed an even more grandiose 333% increase in cannabis use
among seniors exceeding 65 years of age. With opioid addiction hitting epidemic proportions, the time has never been better to reassess how America is caring for their senior citizens. Unfortunately, with a sluggish system in play, many seniors are having to take matters into their own hands and try unconventional methods to get medicine that will treat their conditions without the threat of addiction or even death.
A Fork in the Road for Seniors
Many senior citizens in the U.S. find themselves caught between two strongly competing realities. Statistically, they have more ailments and health concerns to treat than those in younger age demographics. And the general public attitude is growing ever more supportive of the medical benefits of cannabis as an effective, natural means of treating those very same ailments. But seniors also have decades of social conditioning convincing them that cannabis is comparable to heroin and similar demonization. In February of this year, a study was published
that clarified that medical cannabis is not just effective but safe in treating older patients who are suffering from a diverse range of diseases and conditions including Parkinson’s, PTSD, Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis and even cancer symptoms.
The Threat of Opioids to the Senior Community
Archaic perspectives aren’t the only restrictions limiting senior citizens’ medical marijuana use. Many retirement communities and assisted living facilities have strict rules banning the use of marijuana, even in states where the plant has been legalized. With their hands tied, older people are often left no alternative to trusting their doctors to prescribe opioids for their conditions. Several resources have pointed to a climbing percentage of opioid misuse
among America’s older generations as well as doctors relying too heavily on opioids as a catch-all treatment without considering alternatives such as regular exercise, improved diet or medical marijuana. The trope of the stoner granny has garnered more than its fair share of laughs over the years but the reality is a lot more sobering: if grandma isn’t using medical marijuana to treat her aches and pains, there’s a good chance that she’s actually taking harmful and addictive prescription opioids.
Hopeful Statistics from Medical Cannabis
Research published earlier this year revealed that, after 6 months of trial cannabis use, 93.7% of the tested seniors experienced marked relief from pain
. In 18% of these cases, the patients felt such strong relief that they discontinued using opioids as treatment. This means that cannabis provided these patients with enough treatment to leave their comfort zones and refuse opioids that, until recently, were deemed far more socially acceptable than marijuana. With a nearly 100% rate of success, cannabis could well be the answer to freeing a large portion of our elderly community from addictive and potentially lethal opioid abuse. Of course, the federal stance on marijuana prevents assisted living facilities, retirement communities and even trusted doctors from assisting our senior citizens in fully exploring their options when it comes to medical cannabis treatments. But if the U.S. is serious about ending its reliance on prescription opioids, destigmatizing cannabis in the eyes of our elderly citizens is a great place to start. After all, these are our parents and grandparents at stake.