As the average life expectancy continues to increase, the senior citizen population is predicted to grow substantially. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, the population of those aged 65 and above will reach 83.7 million — nearly double the estimated population of this demographic in 2012. But although that sounds like good news, the reality is that many aging Americans will face more substantial health issues as they grow older. That often means an increased reliance on medications — four out of five older people take one or more daily medications already — and increasing healthcare costs. But a recent study has found that alternative, more natural forms of treatment may be a viable option that can help a substantial number of seniors find relief for their chronic pain. That is, if they’re able to get past the stigma associated with it.
At present, approximately 80% of seniors suffer from at least one chronic disease, while 68% of seniors have two or more chronic conditions. Although these conditions are often accompanied by physical pain and discomfort, the traditional medications many seniors are prescribed often come with other unwanted side effects. Thus, many seniors would ideally like to cut down on the number of medicines they’re taking. A recent New York-based study involving more than 200 patients aged 75 and older found that one controversial plant could potentially take the place of medications prescribed for chronic pain. That’s right: we’re talking about marijuana.
Currently, medical marijuana is available in 33 states, while another 10 have legalized recreational marijuana use. Although some seniors may have been resistant to the idea of using this drug in the past, more are now realizing how beneficial it could be — and so are medical researchers. In the aforementioned study, 75% of participants were being treated for chronic pain, cancer, MS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and other conditions. All participants received treatment products that contained both CBD and THC, with most receiving tinctures applied by dropper underneath the tongue. Results showed that 70% of participants experienced relief from their conditions. Approximately half reported that their chronic pain decreased, while 18% noted that they slept better. Approximately 15% said their nerve pain dissipated, with 10% reporting positive effects on their anxiety levels.
That said, it’s not all smooth sailing. At the onset, approximately 13% of patients experienced a common side effect associated with marijuana — sleepiness. Around 7% of patients had either issues with their balance or gastrointestinal problems. After their doses were adjusted, approximately 21% of patients continued to experience issues, with 3% of participants opting to stop taking medical marijuana dude to the side effects they experienced.
But even so, researchers are quick to point out other benefits of opting for cannabis products over prescription medications like opioids. For one thing, medical marijuana comes with no risk of overdose — and it certainly isn’t addictive in the way that opioids are. And although some medical marijuana products are expensive and need to be paid for out-of-pocket, some seniors may find that to be a small price to pay for the relief they experience.
Even though more than 2 million Americans are now using medical cannabis products to relieve pain or improve health, the ability to receive these products will vary by state and by medical condition. Now that CBD products have become so popular (and so readily available), it may be possible for seniors to find relief without the high associated with THC — and without having to qualify for and enroll in a state program.
That said, the CBD industry remains relatively unregulated, which means it’s not always easy to tell exactly what you’re getting when you purchase a given product. Despite the fact that the reported benefits of CBD are mainly anecdotal, some industry estimates say that CBD sales could reach $1.3 billion by 2022. There’s data to back up the positive effects that medical marijuana has on chronic pain, but there’s currently a lack of evidence to suggest that CBD could provide the same effects. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work; it’s merely that researchers aren’t exactly sure how well yet.
That isn’t stopping many seniors from seeking out these alternative treatments. After all, today’s Baby Boomers aren’t exactly unfamiliar with cannabis — it’s just a new way of using it that might take some getting used to.