According to one survey of 138 senior-aged patients, 27 percent reported that they were able to discontinue their entire regime of painkillers with the aid of medical cannabis.
One woman uses drops of marijuana oil to help alleviate chronic back pain. Acupuncture, cortisone shots and chiropractic adjustments weren’t effective. Now she can walk farther than she could before she began taking the drops. She receives them from a medical marijuana collective in the retirement community where she lives in Laguna Woods, CA.
The number of seniors who are using medical cannabis to wean themselves off pharmaceutical drugs, that often have undesirable side effects, is on the rise.
A survey conducted by Northwell Health, a non-profit organization that oversees the most extensive healthcare system in New York, points to this trend. Researchers for the study sent the survey to 138 anonymous medical cannabis patients, ages 61 - 70, who were experiencing chronic pain. The patients were asked about their cannabis dosages, consumption methods, and consumption frequency as well as any possible experiences with side effects.
27 percent of the survey participants claimed they were able to discontinue their use of painkiller medications entirely, by using medical cannabis. An additional 20 percent reported having markedly decreased their use of other painkillers since the medical cannabis was introduced into their treatment plan of medicine.
The Northwell survey also asked the seniors open-ended questions so that they could elaborate on their experience with medical cannabis. In this section, they expressed overwhelmingly positive reviews.
“I was on Percocet and replaced it with medical marijuana. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” said one respondent. Another claimed that “I was on opiates for 15 years, and six months on marijuana, and off both completely.”
Ninety percent of respondents said that they would recommend medical cannabis to others.
Some other studies have also found an increase in cannabis use among those of retirement age and beyond. One such survey of 47,000 people revealed that people 65 years or older are now using cannabis an astounding 250 percent more than they used to.
The Northwell Health survey adds to an ever increasing body of research which suggests that medical cannabis could be used as a means to combat the country’s current epidemic of deaths from opioid overdose. New York’s Health Commissioner, Howard Zucker, recently announced that the state would be adding opioid use to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis access.
In 2013, seniors accounted for 55 percent of all opioid prescriptions written.
Sadly, access to medical cannabis can be prohibitively expensive for many, especially seniors - many of whom are on fixed incomes. Dr. Diana Martins-Welch, a Northwell Health physician and co-author of the study, stated that a one-month supply of medical marijuana can cost patients an average of $300. She went on to say cannabis’ Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act, means insurance doesn’t cover cannabis medications, making it even more difficult to afford for many seniors.
The Northwell Health’s researchers presented their findings in May at an annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society in Florida.