Israel has legalized marijuana for medicinal uses and has some of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the world, enabling researchers to do many large-scale studies about the impact of the drug. A recent study by scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Cannabis Clinical Research Institute at Soroka University Medical Center has found that in patients older than 65, medical marijuana can reduce pain significantly, without adverse side effects.
The work has been reported in The European Journal of Internal Medicine; it suggests that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for elderly people afflicted with many diseases including cancer, Parkinson's disease, PTSD, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis.
"While older patients represent a large and growing population of medical cannabis users, few studies have addressed how it affects this particular group, which also suffers from dementia, frequent falls, mobility problems, and hearing and visual impairments," said Victor Novack, M.D., a BGU professor of medicine and head of the Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute.
"After monitoring patients 65 and older for six months, we found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported," he continued.
In this work, the investigators assessed 2,736 patients that were aged 65 or older to see how they felt after six months of treatment with medical cannabis. The majority of the patients had been prescribed the drug by a doctor to relieve pain, in particular, pain related to cancer. About 33 percent of participants used oil infused with cannabis, about 24 percent smoked it, and around six percent used a vaporizer.
After the six months, over 93 percent of participants reported a drop in their pain level from a median of eight to four on a scale of ten points. Nearly 60 percent of those who had initially said their quality of life was either “bad or “very bad” reported feeling “good” or “very good” after the six months of treatment. Over 70 percent of patients also said that they felt there was a moderate or significant improvement in their condition.
The most common side effects reported by the participants were mild, with about ten percent of patients feeling dizzy, and about seven percent getting a dry mouth. Over 18 percent of respondents ceased or reduced their use of opioid pain relievers.
The researchers have suggested that the work shows how cannabis can help reduce dependence on highly addictive opioid-based painkillers. However, they added that more work would be necessary to confirm that hypothesis.
Learn more about the rise in marijuana use among the elderly from the video.