Medical cannabis use by seniors is steadily increasing, with a 250 percent increase in cannabis use shown amongst geriatrics from 2006 to 2013. With the accessibility of medical cannabis consistently improving over time, this trend of growth looks set to continue amongst this age demographic with the health benefits of cannabis being increasingly documented and reported by news outlets. With this growing interest in medical cannabis from more elderly patients looking set to continue then, let’s take a look what the research says about how cannabis could potentially help this age group.
With current treatments for Alzheimer’s not affecting disease progression or the pathophysiology of the disease, new disease-modifying agents are desperately needed. This is certainly the case when you consider the statistics telling us that around 10 percent of seniors now have the disease.
In the search for disease modifying agents, terpenoids, including cannabinoids found in cannabis, have proved promising due to their anti-AD therapeutic agents and in vivo and in vitro biological activity. Whilst there are still few human trials in this area due to difficulties researching cannabinoids because of their legal classification, preliminary in vitro and vivo studies show that cannabinoids can reduce oxidative stress and the formation of neurofibrillary tangles and plaques. These are key features of late onset Alzheimer’s disorder, so this research is highly promising.
Adding to this, in 2014, a preclinical in vitro study analysed the “potential therapeutic effects of THC” on Alzheimer’s and found that THC may delay the progression of the disease.
Aside from the obvious effects Alzheimer’s has on memory and cognition, the disease often creates comorbid anxiety and depression. Behavioural symptoms of these conditions can often be treated well using medical cannabis too.
Mental health disorders and anxiety
Chronic pain and disease in older patients may increase the likelihood of them experiencing mental health disorders and anxiety or the prevalence of such pain and disease may exacerbate their pre-existing conditions.
Animal studies have found that neurotransmitter systems including the serotonin and dopamine systems can be partially modulated by CBD.
Additionally, THC may be useful for the treatment of anxiety, PTSD, panic disorders and depression as it has an effect on neurotransmitters that regulate fear arousal and mood. However, in this case, the published evidence is not that strong, with it being reliant upon traditional use cases and case reports.
It must also be noted that while THC, CBD and cannabis products may help with anxiety and other mental health disorders, some patients report anxiety as a side effect of cannabis use. This may be due to some patients overmedicating using street cannabis without proper medical advice however.
The leading cause of blindness for people aged 60 and over, this ocular condition affects eyesight due to a build-up in pressure in the patient’s eye due to fluid damages.
The best treatment choice for this condition would still be pressure lowering eye drops. There is the suggestion that if patients also take THC containing medical cannabis oil for their symptoms, a modest lowering of intraocular pressure may occur. However, this is not a treatment that should be used to replace first line glaucoma therapy currently.
As always, like with any other age group, geriatric patients should only proactively seek to use medical cannabis products after a close consultation with and careful assessment from an experienced medical practitioner.
Further investigation and research into medicinal cannabis and alternative medical options is thoroughly encouraged by The Academy, particularly through the use of our own online courses, evidence base and whitepapers.
Specific information on geriatric patients can be found in the geriatric module which can be accessed here.
The rest of our resources are available on our website. We urge anyone considering use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.