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Cannabis use in the elderly

With the recent interest in cannabis for the treatment of so many diseases and the increasing number of states and countries legalizing it’s use (after 80 or 90 years of it’s being criminalized in the 1930’s), one of the many questions that has arisen is about it’s efficacy, and safety, for use in the elderly. Recent articles in the lay press, NY Times and at sites like the National Council on Aging and in the medical literature reveal that not only is marijuana the most frequently used “illicit” substance in those over the age of 65 but that, with it’s panoply of medical benefits and, the issue of it’s interactions with the many drugs older people tend to be on, there needs to be much more research done to come up with an overview of where and when older patients should be using this (array of) substance(s). A recent article in Forbes magazine looked at a company based in Israel and the United States that is helping seniors who may benefit from cannabis and gives them guidance on products, dispensaries and drug interactions to be aware of as they start using cannabis for their pain, anxiety, cancer, glaucoma, etc.

Unfortunately, as in all of the rest of the burgeoning field of medical cannabis the stigma that still lingers from the “Reefer Madness” propagandizing of nearly 100 years ago and, the politically ill conceived classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 Narcotic of 50 years ago, have created a massive impediment to acquiring data that are essential to moving forward. For those of us who are cannabis practitioners, there is great frustration with these impediments; with the (lessening) approbation of our colleagues; with the inability of our patients to legally travel with this life changing substance (though two of my 80+ year olds have confided in me that they have “smuggled” it on their visits out of state); with the lack of uniformity of product from one dispensary to another; and, especially for those on fixed income, the price of the product. Neither office visits nor prescriptions for cannabis are being covered by Medicare at this time. That being said, with the pressure of so many elderly patients and their families and friends finding cannabis so useful for them, including in hospice situations, more and more states legalizing medical cannabis and more practitioners and hospitals seeing it’s efficacy, the tides will shift, cannabis will be legalized and more meaningful research can start occurring. In the meantime, cannabis practitioners will, continue to educate our patients and colleagues and politicians, speak to the media and ensure that all patients who will benefit from it can access medical cannabis in their “golden” years. Dr. Kenneth R. Weinberg, M.D. Cannabis Doctors of New York © 2019

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