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Handing out joints to Grandma and Grandpa?

Medical Cannabis and the Aging Population

The 20 years following World War II were known as the Baby Boom, a period when over 8 million children were born in Canada. This is a significant number considering the total population of Canada at the onset of the Boom was just over 12 million. Today, the Boomers still represent over a quarter of the nation’s population—a force to be reckoned with. That large segment is aging; therefore, skewing the senior demographic in Canada. By 2031, when the last of the Boomers turns 65, about 23% of our population will be comprised of seniors.

Because of advances in medicine and science, people are living longer.  With aging comes new challenges and difficulties that affect both individuals, families and society. New accommodations will be required to transport, house, and provide accessibility for the 1 in 4 elderly citizens that will comprise our population. The most widespread health complaint reported by seniors is pain. As I alluded to in last month’s article, opioids are not the answer, but a compounding problem.

As part of the team who chose to open a cannabis clinic in Collingwood, my colleagues and I looked at the current state of medicine in our local community, which has a sizable retired population. We found that elderly patients, whether living independently, with family caregivers, or in retirement and nursing homes, were being treated with the same protocols as the larger population—with pharmaceuticals that have many undesirable side effects, can be addicting, or fatal if consumed improperly. Since the elderly are already often facing health challenges and issues of natural decline, we began to investigate safer, less potentially harmful alternatives that could help aging people do so with the greatest quality of life

Our research repeatedly pointed us toward cannabis as an almost panacea for many of the problems elderly patients suffer from. Cannabis was non-addictive and non-lethal. It had very few conflicting drug interactions. It had few side effects. Research showed promise for a plethora of conditions frequently seen in elderly people including pain issues, anxiety and depression, MS, Alzheimer’s, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, and a host of other conditions and disorders. A paradigm shift in medicine was coming, and we decided to ride the crest. This began our partnership with CCC, leaders in the medical cannabis field in Canada.

Does this mean we are handing out joints to Grandma and Grandpa? Well—yes and no. A fair sized sample of this generation grew up in the ‘60’s—the renaissance of recreational cannabis use. When I see patients to advise on what types of cannabis will help their specific ailment, we ask a series of questions—including prior experience—to better assess patient needs and formulate a treatment plan. A surprising number of people in the Boomer group have an anecdotal tale about “back in the day”; however, today’s medical cannabis is very different than the recreational stuff from their youthful encounters.

More than half of what we prescribe patients is CBD—a non-psychoactive type of the medicine. They simply can’t get a high from it. THC, the cannabinoid that creates the buzz, is used in limited strengths, strategically, for certain conditions that don’t respond to CBD alone. Although we can’t fully prohibit smoking of medical cannabis, we robustly discourage it. Using a medical quality convection vaporizer is an encouraged alternative. This type of vape is a much safer option as, used properly, it produces no smoke at all.

Cannabis oil is even more popular. This consists of a carrier oil such as sunflower or grapeseed oil, which is infused with liquid medical cannabis and taken sublingually—under the tongue. Recently, due to Health Canada loosening restrictions, soft gel capsules have been added to the roster of ingestion options. This gives a flexible set of administration choices for elderly patients and their caregivers. Canadian Cannabis Clinics has even constructed a welcome book for new patients and their caregivers instructing them, step-by-step, with diagrams, on how to make their own cannabis oils, butters, teas and edibles with their prescribed cannabis—to give them even more ingestion choices.

Perceptions about cannabis use among the aging population are also changing. I also perform Medical Outreach Education for CCC. I recently did a speaking engagement for a local Probus club comprised of about 200 retired business professionals. I was expecting a sceptical and conservative crowd but was met with an engaged group who was willing to listen and learn. After a standing ovation, I stayed for an extra hour, answering all the questions I couldn’t get to in the allotted time. Yes, times they are a changin’.

Beyond the harm reduction medical cannabis offers over dangerous pharmaceuticals, it offers the elderly much more. I recently attended a medical conference hosted by the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids—a non-profit organization of clinical researchers and healthcare professionals focused on therapeutic use of cannabinoids as medicine. One researcher shared recent study results that suggest medical cannabis use is not only helping maintain memory in elderly patients, it’s improving memory ability. Although further research is required to understand the mechanisms responsible, the fact it happens is exciting—not only for patients with degenerative cognitive conditions, but for the general aging population as well. Another interesting result the research found was cannabis use elevated the elderly patient’s moods to a more positive overall reported level.  At the clinic, we see this in our daily interactions--how significantly medical cannabis is improving health and quality of life of our senior population.

As cannabis becomes better understood and more accepted in society, hopefully, medical use will become a more widespread and commonly used treatment for the elderly—giving them comfort and quality of life in their twilight years.

Rick Gillman is a medical cannabis patient, consultant, and veteran freelance writer. He is involved in medical cannabis research and breeding projects--creating more effective medicine. He works for Canadian Cannabis Clinics as a Medical Outreach Educator out of the Collingwood, Ontario clinic.