More seniors are increasingly turning to medical marijuana to treat their medical issues. From chronic pain to rheumatoid arthritis to insomnia, seniors are heading to marijuana dispensaries by the (literally) busloads to treat these and other disorders. This is according to the latest results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) which looks at tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, mental health, and other health-related issues in the United States.
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A new study published by Dr. Joseph Palamar in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence compared the results from this year's NSDUH study to previous reports and found that seniors have had a seven-fold increase in rates of marijuana use over the past decade. Dr. Palamar, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University Langone Medical Center, notes that today's elderly population, who grew up in the 1960's era of drug experimentation and free love, are not novice pot smokers. "I don't think we need to worry about millions of older people trying weed for the first time," Palamar said. "At least not yet."
While this trend may seem unsurprising for some (marijuana is claimed to be beneficial to many ailments from which the elderly population is prone to suffer), there are some alarming results from this study. For instance, many of those surveyed often misuse other substances such as alcohol and prescription painkillers. This "polysubstance" use is particularly dangerous for seniors who have chronic health conditions. Plus, adding marijuana to the mix can have deleterious consequences due to unforeseen drug interactions.
Furthermore, there is the legality of the matter. While in some states like California and Colorado medical marijuana is legal, many states have not yet joined the bandwagon. With more and more elderly patients asking their doctors whether marijuana would be an appropriate treatment, both patients and medical practitioners must be mindful of state laws. This is particularly important for those who use marijuana on their own.
While the many health benefits of marijuana have been touted by pro-legalization groups in this country, there are still many adverse effects of marijuana use of which patients should be aware. This includes impaired judgment, impaired motor skills (which could interfere with driving and increase the chance of injury), and even paranoia and psychotic episodes at high doses.
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Also important to keep in mind is the lack of quality studies on the effects of marijuana use on seniors. Dr. Namkee Choi, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin who was not an author of the study, points to a research paper published in 2017 in the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Choi remarks how this previous study illustrates the fact that, while the risks of marijuana use in the mental health and well-being of adolescents have been well-documented, the effects on much older populations are less well-known.
Still, with more and more states overturning their strict marijuana laws, it isn't hard to imagine more and more seniors heading to dispensaries over pharmacies for their medication.