With legalization in full swing in Canada, research is growing over the potential medical uses of cannabis.
One demographic of specific interest is seniors, or those aged 65 or above.
As baby boomers are now entering their golden years, those who may have used cannabis in the swinging 60s are turning to the drug once again, and statistics show increasingly.
However, there is still a lot of mystery over how cannabis can be helpful or harmful to seniors.
Read on to find out the advantages and risks of seniors using cannabis, what senior-specific ailments cannabis could potentially treat, and the cannabis businesses that are beginning to target seniors.
Golden years turning green
Recent statistics have shown that cannabis use among seniors is on the rise.
While that may not seem like a lot, for adults aged 50 to 64, it is double the 4.5 per cent that reported cannabis use a decade earlier, in 2006 and 2007.
The increase of use is even greater for those aged 65 and older, where those who reported using cannabis a decade ago increased seven times, from 0.4 per cent.
In Ontario, a recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that those aged 50 and older who reported using cannabis in the previous year shot up from 1.4 per cent in 1998 to 11.4 per cent in 2017. That’s eight times the use from a decade earlier!
For states that have legalized cannabis in the U.S., such as Oregon, Colorado, Washington State, Nevada and California, seniors make up 25 per cent of all cannabis consumers, according to cannabis research firm The Brightfield Group.
Risks of cannabis for seniors
While there may be a growing interest among seniors towards cannabis, the science is still coming in on how cannabis can be useful to seniors and what the risks are.
For this reason, many health practitioners have taken a conservative approach towards cannabis and seniors, rather than the “cure-all” mentality that is prevalent in the cannabis industry.
Health Canada is currently funding a comprehensive set of guidelines for consumers and physicians in cooperation with the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health, which is set to be released in February 2019, according to Rand Teed, a member of the coalition.
Teed said that the two major risks of cannabis use with seniors are interference with other medications and falls due to impairment.
Due to the wide variety of medications seniors often take, much still unknown about how cannabis interacts with other medication, Teed said, and warned that cannabis does limit the effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), the most common type of antidepressants.
Cannabis may also interfere with the effectiveness of other opiate-based pain medications, which act on the endocannabinoid system just as cannabis does, according to Teed.
Health Canada has warned that certain antidepressants, such as fluozetine and Prozac, as well as heartburn drugs, antibiotics and drugs to treat high blood pressure can compete with the same liver enzymes that break down THC, the chemical in cannabis that causes psychoactive effects, potentially leading to higher levels of THC in your bloodstream.
An added risk to cannabis for seniors is that it now more potent than it was in the 1960s and 70s, when seniors were in their teens and 20s and might have taken the drug, Teed said.
In the 60s and 70s, cannabis commonly had about six to eight per cent THC, while today it can be up to 20 to 30 per cent.
That increase in strength can lead to heightened anxiety and heart rate when cannabis is consumed, as well as hallucinations and delusions in extreme cases.
“There are several possible benefits from CBD, [such as] pain relief,” Teed said. “There are some indicators that CBD is helpful for mood.”
There are also no known issues with memory impairment or reduced cognition with CBD as well, giving it a leg up over THC, which has been found to affect memory and cognition.
That being said, some studies have found cannabis to be helpful for certain conditions.
The American Cancer Society says that a number of small studies have found cannabis to be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting cancer patients experience from chemotherapy, as well as neuropathic pain, which is caused by damaged nerves.
Two THC-infused oral pills, Marinol and Cesamet, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S, and are used to treat nausea in cancer patients.