Elderly on Medical Cannabis Stop or Reduce Opioid Use

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Medical research is constantly revealing cannabis’s potential to improve lives, in people from all walks of life. The latest bit of proof, published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, has concluded that elderly patients who treat their symptoms of pain, cancer and other conditions with medical cannabis completely stop or use fewer opioids.

After six months of treatment with medical cannabis, over 14 percent of elderly patients stopped using opioids altogether, while another 3.7 percent were able to reduce their dosage of opiates.

278 patients (35.1%) reported a decrease in the number of drugs or their dosage, and 47 patients (5.9%) reported an increase in the number of drugs or their dosage. Moreover, 143 patients (18.1%) stopped using opioid analgesics or reduced their dose,

Patients also reported reducing the use of other prescription medications; beyond just prescription opioids, over 35 percent of patients were able to decrease their dosage of prescription drugs following treatment with medical cannabis.

Effective Treatment with Medical Cannabis

These reductions were undoubtedly due to pot’s ability to replace conventional analgesic treatments. Nearly 94 percent of survey respondents reported subjective improvements in their condition following cannabis use.

Patients had on average reported experiencing a high pain level of 8 (on a scale of 0 to 10) before treatment, with over two-thirds reporting pain intensity of 8 or higher. After six months of medical cannabis treatment, this median level of pain dropped to 4, with only 7.6 percent still experiencing intense pain.

Previous studies have documented similar reports from patients suffering from chronic back pain, arthritis, chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, and other musculoskeletal conditions. One study, in particular, found that over a third of medical marijuana patients suffering from chronic pain ceased using prescription drugs.

Another study found that medical cannabis alleviates symptoms of pain and inflammation more quickly, efficiently, and for more extended periods of time than conventional therapies.

Living Longer, Living Better

Furthermore, the study found that medical marijuana is appropriate for elderly use. Previous studies establishing the safety of cannabis use by younger adults are not necessarily applicable to an older age group since patients absorb drugs differently as their bodies age.

However, this study determined that medical cannabis is safe for use by older patients aged 65 or older. The most common side effects were dizziness and dry mouth, affecting between 7-10 percent of patients in the study. Importantly, marijuana use did not increase patients’ incidence of falling.

Of the 515 patients that responded to the question regarding falls, 275 (53.4%) reported falling once or more in the six months preceding treatment initiation (median number of falls – 1, interquartile range [0–2]) and 113 (21.9%) reported falling once or more within the six months after treatment initiation (median number of falls – 0, interquartile range [0–0], p < .001).

Decreasing opioid use through increased access to medical marijuana is a crucial way to address the opioid crisis, with recent evidence linking operational dispensaries to a 40 percent decline in the opioid overdose mortality rate. But it’s not just about saving lives, especially in the context of older adults — living longer doesn’t necessarily mean living better, and this is one of the challenges that has evaded modern medicine.

Medical cannabis may prove to be a solution to this challenge. At baseline in the study investigating pot use among seniors, approximately 80 percent of patients described their quality of life as “bad or very bad.” By the end of the study, almost 60 percent felt described their quality of life as “good or very good.”

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