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Elder Use of Marijuana

[DISCLOSURE: I've been smoking pot recreationally since I was in high school with no ill effects I can see. I don't do so often nowadays because in my old age, it makes me cough too much. I haven't gotten around to trying the new edibles that are available here, but I will in time.]


One of the most common afflictions that comes with old age is pain – from arthritis to cancer to neuropathy to back and neck pain to those random aches and pains that come and go and seem to have no known cause.

For many, pain is almost a definition of growing old and these days, increasing numbers of elders are using cannabis (also known as pot, weed, reefer, maryjane, etc.) to treat their pain. As UPI reported in January,

”A new report has found that cannabis use by people over age 50 has increased significantly and outpaced growth across all other age groups.

“The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2000, 1 percent of Americans over 50 had used cannabis within the past year, but by 2012, that number had increased to 3.9 percent.”

In January of this year, The University of Iowa published a study looking into this increased use:

"'Some older persons have responded to changing social and legal environments, and are increasingly likely to take cannabis recreationally,' Brian Kaskie, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in a press release [according to the same UPI story].

"'Other older persons are experiencing age-related health care needs and some take cannabis for symptom management, as recommended by a medical doctor.'

“...The study participants were more likely to have started using cannabis before the age of 30 and many before age 18.”

Twenty-eight states now allow limited use of marijuana for medical purposes and a half a dozen others, including my state, Oregon, allow unrestricted use of marijuana by adults. It is sold in licensed dispensaries not dissimilar to liquor stores in many states.

And now marijuana is being used in some nursing homes even in states that have not approved its use. From The New York Times:

”At the Hebrew Home in the Bronx, the medical marijuana program was years in the making. Daniel Reingold, the president and chief executive of RiverSpring Health, which operates the home, said he saw its powers firsthand when his own father, Jacob, was dying from cancer in 1999.

“To ease his father’s pain, Mr. Reingold boiled marijuana into a murky brown tea. His father loved it, and was soon laughing and eating again.

“'The only relief he got in those last two weeks was the tea,' Mr. Reingold said.

“When Mr. Reingold requested approval from the nursing home’s board members, there were no objections or concerns, he said. Instead, they joked that they would have to increase the food budget.”

The Times also reports that because federal law prohibits use of marijuana, the Hebrew Home complies with that law and although they recommend and monitor its use, “residents are responsible for buying, storing and administering it themselves.”

The University of Iowa study is titled "The Increasing Use of Cannabis Among Older Americans: A Public Health Crisis or Viable Policy Alternative?" As Science Daily reports:

"The article also focuses on the misuse and abuse of cannabis. It then explores two other prominent public health issues - the misuse of prescription medications and the under-treatment of pain at the end of life - and considers how cannabis substitution may be a viable policy alternative to combating these problems.”

Given the reports of runaway opioid addiction in the United States, this sounds like a good idea to me. The New York Times again discussing a resident at the Hebrew Home:

"Marcia Dunetz, 80, a retired art teacher who has Parkinson’s, said she worried at first about what people would think. 'It’s got a stigma,' she said. 'People don’t really believe you’re not really getting high if you take it.'

“But she decided to try it anyway. Now, she no longer wakes up with headaches and feels less dizzy and nauseated. Her legs also do not freeze up as often.

“For [another resident], Ms. Brunn, the marijuana pills have worked so well that she has cut back on her other pain medication, morphine.”

And so what if, in addition to symptom management, users do get high? Why would anyone care.

All this movement toward cannabis legalization in more than half the U.S. states could be rolled back under the new administration and Congress in Washington.

Although President Donald Trump said during the campaign that he did not object to medical marijuana, so far he has reversed himself on almost every campaign promise.

Plus, both the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the new secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, have long records of opposing legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.

Without stretching one's imagination too far and with the growing use of cannabis by elders to control age-related conditions and diseases, any attempt by the federal government to remove or limit its use could be seen as withholding medication from sick and dying elders.


The drug everyone loves to hate . . .
I was a middle-schooler in the mid '50s. For a class project I wrote an investigative paper on the subject: marijuana (MJ). I wrote about its affects, pros, and cons. I wrote a lot of papers covering just about everything that interested me, and others.
In hindsight, I am surprised I wasn't called to the 'carpet'. The report was accepted, as others, with complete neutrality!
This continual controversy about MJ's affects baffles me to this day for two reasons: 1> Why the big deal about MJ in all its forms when this country is in the middle of an enormous, somewhat legalized, and violent opiod epidemic?, and 2> If the medical affects of MJ are as powerful as they are reported to be, why hasn't the Pharma folks come up with a legalized bottled version?

Just wondering . . .

I, too, have been smoking pot for a long time (since late 1966). Three or four years ago I finally got a prescription, and around two years ago I started consuming edibles. Since doing so, my sleep efficiency has increased somewhat dramatically. I wear a Fitbit tracker, which (assuming it's reasonably accurate) measures how well I sleep and syncs it to my online account, giving me lots of data to see how well I'm doing. Previously, I could not get through the night without waking of several times, frequently to pee. Now I often sleep through the night, achieving efficiencies of over 95%; meaning I sleep really well. Since I only try to get six hours per night, it's important those hours be meaningful if I'm to be rested.

I generally eat whatever it is I've purchased - lately it's been a small piece of delicious caramel or a piece of a grape-flavored, gummy star - at least a couple hours before retiring. That way I get to enjoy the high for a short while. I have always fallen asleep fairly quickly, and that has continued, but the frequency with which I awake or toss and turn has decreased dramatically. I recommend cannabis edibles highly, especially for us alter cockers.

Big Pharma loves to spend millions on Research and Development so that they can justify charging an outrageous price for a pill that only costs pennies to make.
Conversely, extracting the active ingredient from an easily grown weed cost nearly nothing.
It's all about the $$.

I have no doubt that Pharma is waiting for the right timing and conditions, mostly legal. Then they will enter the field. Then they will have laws enacted giving them the lions share and regulatory advantages. It is all about the money.

How ironic for this sacred plant, one of the truly great gifts nature has given.

I've never had any desire to try pot. But with all the benefits I've read about in recent years, it's now on my list of possbile treatments for whatever ailments, etc., I develop. I'd want the edibles, though. Have never smoked.

Being a recovered alcoholic, my jury is out on this. But having chronic pain from vascular disease it might be an option for me.

And PS several wealthy friends (I'm not in the club!) Are making a killing in the past week on medical marijuana stocks. One made $100,000 in a week.


I was a recreational user in my youth but stopped in the mid-nineties. When it became legal here in Washington state, I bought some weed but didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would. However, a friend who had never smoked started using edibles for his painful knees. I decided to give it a try myself and used a half dose and felt nothing. But boy did I sleep well, and all my aches and pains were just... gone. By the next morning they had returned, so now maybe once or twice a week I give myself a sleep treat with a half dose. Only once when I took the full dose did I feel any akin to a "high."

I smoked some when back when; but then it started making me feel paranoiac, so I haven't tried it in years. I have nothing against it, esp. for older people, but my question is, if it's going to be treated like a medicine, instead of relying on anecdote and vested interests, shouldn't it be scientifically tested and approved by the FDA for safety, efficacy, etc.?

If you're coughing 'too much' it 's probably a sign that your lungs don't like inhaling the smoke! There are other ways of injesting, I believe, and I encourage people to switch to that method . . . we inhale enough polution without adding smoke to the mix . . .

I enjoyed pot in the 60's but since it became super potent, I'm no longer able to get a nice high, even with a teeny amount. I'm curious to try edibles once I understand the potency.

I do have a couple of concerns that aren't often mentioned. One is the extent to which marijuana like sleep meds disrupts REM sleep and therefore memory consolidation.

The other came to my attention recently based on research at UC Davis (CA)--a low but real risk of lung infection from bacteria, fungi, mold on the leaves, particularlay for anyone with a compromised immune system.

Even if legalized in this State my pain management doctor has said he will refuse to treat anyone that uses it. A liability for him.

I don't have anything against the medical use of marijuana. It is effective for certain illnesses.

Coming from a family where alcoholism was a problem and seeing marijuana and drug usage not only in my generation of cousins but in the younger generation of cousins, I think you have to be very careful. I don't like seeing anyone using pot, drugs or alcohol to avoid feeling feelings. And, I sure don't want to see anyone driving under the influence.

I smoked pot. I haven't smoked it in over 40 years. Would I smoke it or ingest it if I was in chronic pain due to cancer? I might.

Recreational use when I was younger just wasn't for me though I had tried it.

Now just 4 puffs from a bubbler gives me a small high as I go to bed. This distracts me from the insomnia and pain that otherwise prevents me from sleeping. It's not like it stops the pain; it just doesn't matter. I mentally work through a relaxation and breathing process from head to toe. I'm rarely awake to get past my shoulders on down.

Even if I wake in the night to pee, most nights I am relaxed enough to go back to sleep. Getting an adequate sleep makes a huge difference in the pain of the next day. Only time I can't do this is when I have a cold or am traveling. Then I must rely on more traditional prescription sleep aids which work most of the time, but I am not dependent on drugs that could affect organs or interact with other drugs. Edibles could some day be an alternative for me though for now I am satisfied with what works.

To each his own but it works for me. My doctors here in Oregon only make note of it now without comment.

I certainly understand the value of MJ as medicine, otherwise I maintain a drug is a drug, is a drug - with all it's ramifications. Name your poison...mine was vodka in the good ol' days, but sadly, the side effects now outweigh the fun benefits. Ah well, and so it goes...

It will be nice to have the honesty with legalization instead of needing to hide behind "only using it for medicinal purposes."

Pot just puts me to sleep, and with COPD I couldn't smoke it anymore anyway. But I agree wholeheartedly that for pain or pleasure it is far more harmless than alcohol or tobacco!

The woman with whom I share my house (a very common situationfor seniors in today's world) has very bad chronic pain. Fortunately, she lives in Califronia and can get pot legally with a prescption from a qualified doctor to do so.

Since she can't smoke it either, I have helped her discover legal shops that carry everything from lollipops to "magic brownies". The lollipops are quite acceptable, according to her ... and they sure help her finally get some sleep at night. A real blessing for that poor woman.

California is a wonderful state to live in for a lot of reasons, this is just one of them. ;-)

Although I'm 10 years ahead of the oldest Boomers, I tried "the evil weed" on a few occasions--only to find that at the time I preferred vodka. However, those days are so long gone that they seem to be part of a former life.

In the past 18 months, however, pain has definitely become a significant and unwelcome part of my life, to the extent that at times it interferes with what I want (and occasionally need) to do. Although I sometimes struggle to remain active, I recognize that becoming inactive is the beginning of the end. I'm not a big fan of longevity for its own sake, but I'm not quite ready to shuffle off just yet. So, I may well decide to try MJ again, in edible form this time since I haven't smoked anything in over 50 years.

Although it's legal in my state, if I do decide to try it, I would be very reluctant to say anything to my physician that could end up in my medical record and possibly impact my end-of-life care. It's unfortunate (and maybe not the safest thing) but many docs are intimidated by the DEA and the FDA. It's my life and, as long as I don't drive or commit a crime under the influence, it's really no one's else's business (and that includes deputy fuehrers Sessions and Rice, whose commitment to states' rights and individual liberties has never extended to women's bodies!).

Having a strong reaction to any kind of smoke, my eyes and throat never allowed me to enjoy smoking it during its heyday in the late 1960's. Medical marijuana just recently became legal in Illinois, but the conditions for which it's allowed are fairly limited and I am happy not to have any of them so far; however, I would not be opposed to trying edibles if that changes. I'm reluctant to ingest any kind of medication or drug, "natural" or otherwise, but I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to pain, and would prefer something that's not going to knock me out or lead to a dependency.

I have never smoked it - never even been near it - as far as I know. But increasing arthritis pain suggests I might enjoy it.

Easy to convert HHS Secretary Price to supporting marijuana legalization: promise him stock in the company. His opinions on matters medical seem to be related to his personal bottom line.

There are some extraordinary videos on YouTube on the effects of marijuana on Parkinson's patients.
Search "Marijuana and Parkinson's Disease."

working in the cannabis space, i have seen marijuana benefit folks of all ages, but the one thing that remains constant is the average age of use which is mostly seniors.

Products like cbd and thc oils and capsules can benefit them immensely. its amazing.

thanks for this insightful post!

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