By 2050 it is expected that almost 17 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65 years of age, which puts significant stress on a healthcare system that is already struggling. Experts from multiple fields from medicine to insurance have been working on a solution. However, the one solution that is hardly mentioned is to increase senior cannabis consumption. Pain, depression and insomnia are some of the most common ailments of advancing years, and cannabis is tailor-made to provide safe and effective therapeutic relief to these chronic maladies and many others as well.
Chronic pain afflicts most seniors due to a lifetime of wearing down of joints and muscles, a general decrease in activity levels and the presence of other medical conditions. Up to 88 percent of seniors complain of varying degrees of chronic pain.
Rather than providing them with dangerous and addicting opioid-based medications like Percocet and Vicodin, doctors could provide effective and safe treatment for pain using cannabis. A 2015 study at Montreal’s McGill University found that “chronic pain patients who use herbal cannabis daily for one-year report reduced discomfort and increased quality of life.”
Cannabis to treat pain was so effective that a research paper published in the journal Health Affairs found that when cannabis was easily available, “FDA-approved prescription drugs under Medicare Part D fell substantially.”
Life changes associated with advancing years such as the death of a spouse or deterioration of bodily functions can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety and stress detrimentally affecting how an elderly person manages their daily activities of life such as sleeping, eating and working. Treatment for depression can range from consultations with psychologists to the use of prescription pharmaceuticals. The most common, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Effexor. Although effective in varying degrees, they increase the risk of falling, injuries, seizures, strokes and death.
“The endocannabinoid system and the endocannabinoids produced by our bodies are responsible for maintaining homeostasis—keeping our bodies in balance.”
There is another way to treat depression. The endocannabinoid system and the endocannabinoids produced by our bodies are responsible for maintaining homeostasis—keeping our bodies in balance. Research has shown that depression can come from a reduction in the production of endocannabinoids thereby throwing our bodies out of balance. These cannabinoid deficiencies produced by stress and other triggers of depression can be ameliorated through the supplemental use of cannabis.
“Using compounds derived from cannabis—marijuana—to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression,” was the conclusion of a 2015 report issued by neuroscientists from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions.
Depression shares many of the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder, and cannabis has been shown to effectively mitigate these symptoms in the publications Journal of Psychoactive Drugs and Neuropsychopharmacology. Although these conclusions are speculative, the legendary ability of cannabis to enhance mood provides thousands of years of anecdotal evidence to substantiate this research.
Although insomnia is not directly related to aging, over 50 percent of elderly people report problems sleeping whether it is falling asleep, staying asleep or obtaining enough sleep. Developing regular patterns of sleeping and exercise are solutions that many find helpful, but still almost one-third of seniors take prescription pharmaceuticals in a quest to get a good night’s sleep.
Most commonly prescribed are barbiturates like Seconal, benzodiazepines like Xanax or insomnia “Z” meds like Ambien. From increasing the risk of falls to confusion and constipation, all of these drugs have significant negative side-effects.
As pain and anxiety can thwart sleep, the ability of cannabis to mitigate pain and reduce anxiety as noted above can overcome some of the most common causes of insomnia. In addition, cannabinoids are involved in the sleep-wake cycle and other circadian processes. THC and the lesser known cannabinoid CBN, exhibit significant sedative properties helping to explain why the ingestion of cannabis facilitates falling asleep and increases deep sleep.
Whether for pain, depression or insomnia, the documented ability of cannabis to provide safe, effective therapeutic relief to many of the ailments associated with aging can restore health, vitality and optimism. Cannabis keeps the golden years “golden.”