“Safer” Pain Relief

According to Dr Prozialeck, one of the most common reasons that older adults turn to marijuana is for pain relief, and as an alternative to opioids. “The need for more effective pain relief is important in today’s prescribing climate, in which prescribers are cutting back on opioid prescriptions in general, and particularly for older adults. Older people were one of the populations in which opioids were most widely used and now, since advanced age and sleep apnea are known to increase overdose problems, doctors are reluctant to prescribe –but older adults are a population with an increasing number of underlying pain conditions that they want relief from.” 

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Dr Prozialeck noted that, while some older adults of the “aging hippie generation” might have used marijuana before during the 1960s and 1970s, a fair number are new users.

Thorsten Rudroff, PhD, assistant professor Department of Health & Human Physiology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, agreed, noting that many people age 50 and above first started using medical marijuana, primarily for pain relief.

Data on 138 older adult cannabis users presented at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Geriatric Society showed that most were able to partially or fully curb their use of prescription analgesic by using medical marijuana and 91% of respondents would recommend it to others.9 Another study found that Medicare Part D prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased in states with medical marijuana laws.10 A study of Medicaid prescription data concluded that medical marijuana laws and adult-use marijuana laws were associated with lower opioid prescribing rates.11

Sleep and Other Benefits

Older adults use marijuana for a variety of reasons beyond pain, including insomnia and anxiety.12

“I have a lifelong insomnia problem, due to early childhood trauma,” said Paige E, LCSW, a 75-year-old therapist who asked that her name not be used for this article. “I have tried the full array of psychotropic medications as well as sleeping medications, all of which were either ineffective or which gave me terrible side effects. Once my psychiatrist prescribed medical marijuana, my sleep improved and I’m less anxious. We were both surprised at how effective it turned out to be.” 

Additional reasons seniors turn to cannabis include glaucoma and chemotherapy side effects such as nausea (when relevant).12

This article originally appeared on MPR