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The Role of Alcohol and Cannabis in the Lives of Baby Boomers

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Seems like baby boomers are returning to their golden years as harbingers of change as two studies report significant increases in cannabis consumption and a smaller uptick in binge drinking. Considering the problems associated with aging—physical deterioration, onset of age-related ailments like arthritis, cancer and movement disorders as well as increased mental challenges such as depression, Alzheimer’s, failing cognition and more—this may not be so surprising, as cannabis and alcohol can provide therapeutic relief and an escape from unpleasant realities.

A December 2016 study, “Demographic trends among older cannabis users in the United States,” found that over the last 10 years cannabis use among 50 to 64-year-old baby boomers increased by 57.8 percent, while those aged 65 and older increased by a phenomenal 250 percent.

“A December 2016 study, ‘Demographic trends among older cannabis users in the United States,’ found that over the last 10 years cannabis use among 50 to 64-year-old baby boomers increased by 57.8 percent, while those aged 65 and older increased by a phenomenal 250 percent.”

Although these are astounding increases, they still represent only a small percentage of baby boomers. In the early 2000s only about 4.5 percent of those aged 50 to 64 consumed cannabis and an almost negligible 0.4 percent of seniors 65 and older consumed cannabis. In 2013, the numbers had increased to 7.1 percent and 1.4 percent respectively, still just a sliver of the overall 50-and-over population, but a possible harbinger of trends to come considering the increasing legality and ease of access to cannabis.

Hopefully it does portend a significant increase in consumption as cannabis is tailor made for the ailments of advancing years. Whether it is used to treat the pain of arthritis or aching backs, depression from loneliness or anxiety, insomnia due to illnesses or financial stress or ameliorate problems associated with movement disorders like Parkinson’s and essential tremors, cannabis is effective and safe with far fewer of the negative side effects found in standard prescription pharmaceuticals.

Since cannabis consumption was rampant when baby boomers were in their teens and 20s back in the go-go ’60s and ’70s, most know first-hand of its benefits and benign negative reactions. With the ’60s mantra of “Make Love, Not War” they are also very aware of cannabis’ legendary properties for rekindling passion and sexual arousal, which can wane precipitously in the elderly.

“Whether it is used to treat the pain of arthritis or aching backs, depression from loneliness or anxiety, insomnia due to illnesses or financial stress or ameliorate problems associated with movement disorders like Parkinson’s and essential tremors, cannabis is effective and safe with far fewer of the negative side effects found in standard prescription pharmaceuticals.”

Although the study finding an increase of cannabis consumption in aging baby boomers is a cause for celebration, another study, “Demographic trends of binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorders among older adults in the United States,” is cause for concern. The study found “binge drinking and alcohol use disorders are increasing among older adults” and that “older women reported large increases in binge drinking and alcohol use disorders.”

As would be expected alcohol consumption vastly outpaces cannabis consumption with 63 percent of adults over 50 reporting alcohol use in the previous year compared to less than eight percent having used cannabis. When compared to the soaring increase in cannabis consumption, binge drinking rose only a moderate two percent from 12.9 percent in 2005-2006 to 14.9 percent in 2013-2014. Considering that far more baby boomers engage in binge drinking than cannabis inhaling, the overall negative health consequences border on disastrous.

The small uptick in binge drinking most likely aligns with some of the same reasons for the more significant uptick in cannabis consumption. Unlike cannabis, which truly does provide therapeutic benefits for age-related ailments, alcohol has no benefits for almost all of the ailments associated with advancing years be it for pain, movement disorders or cancer. Although alcohol can temporarily mitigate depression, it can easily lead to severe and debilitating physical and mental problems.

With more states implementing cannabis legalization, it is not unreasonable to expect that cannabis consumption will become more acceptable. Maybe some of the baby boomer friends of binge drinkers will encourage them to use cannabis instead of alcohol. They may very well find the social camaraderie of passing the joint, pipe or water pipe with their cannabis consuming friends provides far better relief from the stress and strains of daily life than alcohol.

Cannabis played a major role in the lives and attitudes of the baby boomers and was in part responsible for the world-shattering paradigm shift they brought about. Once again cannabis is playing a major role in their lives, but this time it is more personal as it makes their lives more comfortable and content as its millennium old health properties are rediscovered for the ailments of advancing years.

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Riveting Research

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Eleven states, with a combined population of 77 million people and representing roughly one-fourth of America, have legalized the adult-use of cannabis for any reason. Another 120 million live in states that have legalized some form of medical cannabis. This makes for a grand total of 197 million or over 60 percent of the country.

Based on the predictions of drug warrior groups opposing cannabis legalization, we should be experiencing substantial increases in youth consumption, increased driving fatalities from impaired drivers and dramatic increases in physical and mental health ailments.

Far from their sky is falling pronouncements, the results published in peer-reviewed evidentiary-based medical journals have found that all states that legalized the medical and adult-use of cannabis have experienced positive benefits. It’s not to say that there haven’t been some problems, but overall, the effects are beneficial for public health.

A study published in the October 2019 The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that “medical cannabis laws increase adult but not adolescent cannabis use,” although the report did caution that “provisions of the laws associated with less regulated supply may increase adult cannabis use disorders.” The same proved true for recreational cannabis laws as the report noted their “findings suggest little impact on the prevalence of adolescent cannabis use, potential increases in college student use, and unknown effects on other substance use.” The study went on to recognize that “these laws may reduce some opioid-related harms, while their impacts on alcohol and tobacco use remain uncertain.”

“Reducing opioid-related harm is one of the major public benefits of legalizing cannabis.”

 

Reducing opioid-related harm is one of the major public benefits of legalizing cannabis. Multiple research studies substantiate its pain-relieving abilities with medical researchers reporting in a 2018 study published by the American Medical Association that “marijuana liberalization may serve as a component of a comprehensive package to tackle the opioid epidemic.”

As for the ability of cannabis to reduce alcohol consumption, another recent study also published in October 2019 in the Forum for Health Economics & Policy examined the impact of medical cannabis laws and the prevalence of “active and legally protected dispensaries” reporting that “medical marijuana laws have harm reduction effects across a variety of outcomes related to risky health behaviors.”

Elaborating on this conclusion and highlighting the need for legal access, the study reported “strong improvements in health among non-white individuals, those reporting chronic pain, and those with a high school degree, driven predominately by whether or not the state had active and legally protected dispensaries.” Most importantly, the study concluded “that the aforementioned demographic groups experience large reductions in alcohol consumption after the implementation of a medical marijuana law.”

Even a modest reduction in alcohol consumption from the use of cannabis will provide substantial public health benefits.

As for bloodbaths on the highways, The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have all found that, unlike alcohol’s contribution to highway mayhem, there is no evidence of any relationship between THC levels in the bloodstream and impairment.

A September 2019 study published in the medical journal Cureus concluded, “There is no clear or stated correlation between the legalization of cannabis and crash rates.” The article substantiated that conclusion finding, “The correlation between alcohol and crash risk is clear and the findings are so consistent. Some research shows that THC only causes minimal impairment and has a little contribution to crash risk.”

A 2015 study published by the University of Chicago Law School found that “the legalization of medical cannabis is associated with reduced alcohol consumption, especially among young adults.” Cannabis is not going to make you a better driver, but unlike alcohol, it is not going to make you a menace on the highway.

One of the most unambiguous conclusions found in the Cureus and other studies has been the effect on crime and punishment. In every state that has legalized cannabis, arrest rates have plummeted—98 percent in Washington, 81 percent in Colorado, 76 percent in Washington D.C., 96 percent in Oregon and 94 percent in Alaska with comparable reductions in all other legalization states. The public health benefits resulting from the saving of hundreds of millions of dollars and sparing hundreds of thousands of people from being saddled with lifelong criminal records is almost beyond measure.

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Gastrointestinal Distress

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Almost everyone has experienced nausea during their lifetime and most likely will continue to experience nausea sporadically throughout their life. This is because nausea has so many causative factors, and being nauseous on occasion is as likely as experiencing pain on occasion.

Nausea can be acute and last briefly or it can be chronic and incapacitating, leading to debilitating vomiting and interfering with the ability to function on a day-to-day basis. It is not a disease but a symptom of many internally and externally caused ailments such as gastrointestinal imbalances, motion sickness, anxiety, medication reactions, food poisoning and host of other disorders, both physical and psychological.

Whether short-term or recurrent and chronic, there is a cornucopia of nausea medications called antiemetics. One of the most common, bismuth subsalicylate, works by protecting the stomach lining and is found in many over-the-counter medications like Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol. By blocking H1 receptors in the area of the brain, which create nausea, anti-histamines like Benadryl are effective in treating motion sickness and nausea caused by many medications.

Like most antiemetics, cannabis does not cure the underlying ailment, but mitigates the symptoms. When activated by the THC and CBD cannabinoids found in cannabis, the endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the body produce an anti-emetic response as was noted in a study published in the October 2013 issue of British Journal of Pharmacology finding that THC and CBD “may have therapeutic potential in reducing nausea.”

This was further confirmed in the February 2015 issue of Current Gastroenterology Reports, which reported that “Several cannabinoid receptors, which include the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), CB2 and possibly GPR55, have been identified throughout the GI tract. These receptors may play a role in the regulation of food intake, nausea and emesis.”

“When treating nausea, it is important to determine the THC/CBD content of the cannabis.”

 

More significantly, this anti-nausea property was found to be particularly effective in treating the extreme and debilitating nausea that comes from the chemo and radiation therapies used to treat cancer. As far back as 1975, a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine reported that “oral tetrahydrocannabinol has antiemetic properties and is significantly better than a placebo in reducing vomiting caused by chemotherapeutic agents.”

The Institutes of Medicine’s 1999 groundbreaking study entitled “Marijuana as Medicine” noted “an inhalation (preferably not smoking) cannabinoid drug delivery system would be advantageous for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea.”

Cannabis works to treat nausea and, other than making a person who is feeling poorly feel better, produces far fewer side effects than almost all current antiemetic medications, both over-the-counter and prescribed.

When treating nausea, it is important to determine the THC/CBD content of the cannabis. If you are feeling nauseous you might not want to experience effects that might intensify the feelings of nausea, so you should choose a cannabis with low THC and high CBD.

The route of administration also needs to be one that does not aggravate the nausea. Although inhalation is a quick route to relief, in some people smoking can trigger additional feelings of nausea especially if you are already feeling nauseous. Use of a vaporizer should reduce the likelihood of additional nausea as no smoke is produced when vaporizing.

A method that was possibly used by your grandparent or great-grandparent to treat nausea was tincture of cannabis. Found in medicine cabinets just about everywhere, this solution of cannabis dissolved in alcohol or glycerin is taken sublingually (under-the-tongue) with effects noticed within three to five minutes. Although the taste is not the most pleasant, it is unlikely to antagonize the nausea.

Edibles are a double-edged sword. If the nausea is being generated from or by the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, getting the cannabis directly into the area where the nausea is occurring could be very beneficial. At the same time, the introduction of food products into the GI tract can intensify the ongoing nausea episode.

Nausea may be part of life, but it doesn’t have to interfere with life. With preventative care and proper treatment that includes the use of cannabis, nausea can be mitigated, allowing the body to recover, regain strength and return to a state of healthful equilibrium.

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The Science of Edibles

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Even though the perceived effects of inhaled and ingested cannabis can feel so different from one another, it is how the body assimilates and incorporates THC and other cannabinoids found in cannabis that makes for the stark differences between inhaling and ingesting.

There is no psychoactive THC found naturally in cannabis plants. What is actually found in the plant is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which has no psychoactive properties. THCA contains a carboxyl molecule which, when removed by a process called decarboxylation, gives cannabis its famed psychotropic properties.

With temperatures in excess of 350 degrees Fahrenheit, the elevated heat from smoking or vaping will instantly decarboxylate the THCA converting it into Delta-9-THC, the famously celebrated psychoactive cannabinoid of cannabis. When inhaled, the Delta-9-THC is immediately absorbed by the lungs flowing directly into the bloodstream and crossing the blood-brain barrier. The psychoactive effects occur within minutes so you can easily titrate and quickly moderate your intake maintaining levels you are comfortable with.

The decarboxylation of THCA to produce Delta-9-THC can also take place at lower temperatures such as those used for baking. The conversion is not instantaneous, and thus it requires 15 to 45 minutes depending on the temperature. In addition to producing Delta-9-THC for use in edibles, one of the advantages of heating at a lower temperature is the terpenes, which are responsible for the aroma of cannabis, are preserved.

Edibles are not absorbed through the respiratory system, but rather through the digestive system. Therein is the big difference, which accounts for why the potency and length of time of action is greater for cannabis that is eaten versus cannabis that is inhaled.

“The bottom line for edibles is you can always take more, but you can’t take less once you have taken them, so err on the side of caution, and wait at least two hours before consuming more.”

 

When Delta-9-THC goes through the digestive system rather than the respiratory system, it is metabolized in the liver and converted to 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC). This form of THC crosses the blood-brain barrier more quickly than Delta-9-THC and is considered to be more psychotropic, because it activates specific cannabinoid receptors in the brain more effectively than Delta-9-THC does. This is one of the reasons edibles are believed to be more likely to bring on feelings of anxiety, panic, paranoia and other negative psychotropic reactions.

Although this has been the accepted explanation for why edibles are more potent than smoking or vaping, not all researchers agree. Studies done at GW Pharmaceuticals, according to an article in The Atlantic, have found that the two compounds are basically equivalent and point to a far simpler explanation. The author refers to Dr. Ethan Russo and his skepticism for such an explanation. “Russo says the reason edibles affect people more strongly is simply because more THC—of any kind—gets into the body when pot is eaten. When a joint is smoked, only 10 to 30 percent of the THC is absorbed into the body, he says. A lot—quite literally—just goes up in smoke,” reads the article.

Whether the psychoactive effects of edibles derive from the potency of 11-OH-THC versus Delta-9-THC or the simple fact that you are going to get more psychoactive THC from ingesting than from inhaling, it still calls for more caution when edibles are consumed.

This is why knowing the amount of THC in edibles is critical. Eating someone’s homemade edibles with unknown potencies can be especially risky as beginners are advised to limit their intake of THC to between one and five milligrams. Once accustomed to the effects, dosages can be increased up to 10 milligrams. Most states that have legalized cannabis have set 10 milligrams as a single serving size although very experienced consumers can utilize considerably more with no ill effect.

Along with potency, the time for onset of the effects with edibles is critical with times of onset running from 30 minutes to two hours. Just because you have not felt anything in 60 minutes doesn’t mean you should take more. Overdosing is not going to kill you, but it is very uncomfortable, with some people going to emergency rooms with panic attacks and other distressful symptoms.

The bottom line for edibles is you can always take more, but you can’t take less once you have taken them, so err on the side of caution, and wait at least two hours before consuming more.

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