Seniors Treating Aches And Pains Among Fastest Growing Groups Of Cannabis Users

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter
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  • More seniors are using cannabis to treat aches, pains and other ailments related to aging. 
  • Many of them are returning to weed or discovering it anew because more states have legalized marijuana.
  • Researchers warn that unknown side effects might accompany this trend.

Seniors are being targeted by the cannabis industry as one of the fastest growing groups of cannabis users in the U.S., even though a lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and physician oversight could pose health risks, according to a marijuana policy group.

Marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized the substance are even shuttling seniors from retirement communities to hear presentations about their ointments, edibles and more, according to a Tuesday story by Kaiser Health News.

Kaiser Health News profiled consumers like 90-year-old Shirley Avedon, a California resident who in July tried her first medicinal marijuana product, a topical cream formulated without high-inducing active ingredient THC.

Nearly 3 percent of seniors 65 and older have used marijuana in the past year, according to a Sept. 7 CBS News article. Outlets from The Huffington Post to The New Yorker have touted seniors as “the next budding market” for legal weed and weed products.

New customers have bolstered the U.S. legal marijuana industry as more states have legalized it for various purposes, including eight states plus Washington, D.C., which allow recreational use.

“We believe every American deserves the best-possible treatment possible, and that includes older Americans who are in pain,” Pat Brogan of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Smoking marijuana is not an efficient delivery system, and there is no way to measure the dosage needed. Marijuana isn’t regulated like other drugs. It would be like using willow bark for pain relief already available in aspirin.”

SAM’s website says its mission is to “promote health-first, smart policies and attitudes that decrease marijuana use and its consequences.”

A survey conducted between 2006 and 2013 asked adults 65 and older if they had used marijuana within the past year, and the percentage increased 250 percent between those two dates, according to the 2016 analysis. The number of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 who had used marijuana in the past year increased roughly 58 percent in the same time frame.

“This is a population who can greatly benefit from the use of therapeutic cannabis to treat various conditions and symptoms associated with older age, like chronic pain, cancer, incontinence, etc.,” Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told TheDCNF.

Many seniors used cannabis when they were young adults, Armentano told TheDCNF.

“But the majority of adults voluntarily ceased their use because they entered the workforce and raised children,” he told TheDCNF. “Now that their children are grown up, and they themselves are retired, they’re revisiting the use of substance they once enjoyed. … This is a population who is well aware of the litany of serious adverse side-effects associated with many prescription drugs, like opioids, and they are seeking a safer alternative.”

“NORML’s mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults,” its website states(RELATED: Study: Seniors Should Think Twice Before Reaching For The Aspirin Bottle)

Groups like SAM maintain that seniors must be wary of cannabis-based medicinal products because of a lack of FDA oversight.

“The FDA must be involved in the process of regulating marijuana so that an approved medication, prescribed by a physician and dispensed through a pharmacy, can be made available to those who need it,” Brogan told TheDCNF. “Developing marijuana-based medications through the FDA process is more likely to ensure that seriously ill patients, who are being supervised by their actual treating physicians, have access to safe and reliable products. While parts of the marijuana plant do have medical value, it’s up to science, and not politics, to show us how to best use it.” (RELATED: Cannabis In A Coke Can? Coca-Cola And Cannabis Company Reportedly In Talks About Potential Product)

Side effects of marijuana include “increased heart rate, nausea and vomiting,” according to Kaiser Health News. Seniors are also at risk of unpredictable interactions between cannabis and whatever prescription drugs they may be taking, reported CBS News.

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

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