Medical Marijuana Brings Relief to Older Adults, Study Finds

The study’s findings show that medical marijuana can offer symptom relief while being well tolerated in adults 75 and older.

New research suggests that medical marijuana is a safe and effective treatment option for older adults suffering from chronic pain and certain diseases. Researchers at the Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, New York have found a majority of adults 75 years and older experience symptom relief once they started taking cannabis, and nearly one-third reduced their intake of opioids.

As cannabis use becomes more common among senior citizens, the findings, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 71st Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, show that medical marijuana may be a safe and effective way to help offer relief to the 80 percent of older adults in the United States who have at least one chronic health condition.

“With legalization in many states, medical marijuana has become a popular option among people with chronic diseases and disorders, yet there is limited research, especially in older people,” said the study’s author, Laszlo Mechtler, MD, of Dent Neurologic Institute and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Our findings are promising and can help fuel further research into medical marijuana as an additional option for this group of people who often have chronic conditions.”

Mechtler and his colleagues surveyed 204 patients with an average age of 81 years who were registered with New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program. The patients either took liquid extract tinctures or capsules by mouth or vaped their cannabis material using a vaporizer.

Medical marijuana was found to bring relief to patients experiencing pain, sleep disorders, or anxiety related to conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, neuropathy, spinal cord damage, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

Of all participants, 69 percent reported experiencing some symptom relief with cannabis. The most common symptom that was improved was pain, with 49 percent saying they experienced relief. Eighteen percent said they experienced relief from sleep issues, while 15 percent had neuropathic relief and 10 percent noticed improvements in anxiety.

The medical marijuana was so effective with reducing pain that 32 percent of patients reported being able to lower their intake of prescribed opioids. Previous studies have also shown cannabis can help older adults manage pain while reducing opioid painkiller use.

Effectively Managing Side Effects

Mechtler and his team found that initially, 34 percent of patients in their study experienced side effects from taking medical marijuana. That number dropped to 21 percent after an adjustment was made in dosage.

The most common side effects experienced by the older adults were sleepiness (13 percent), balance problems (7 percent), and gastrointestinal disturbances (7 percent).

Cannabis products containing a lower amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) most commonly could be taken without patients experiencing any side effects.

“Our findings show that medical marijuana is well-tolerated in people age 75 and older and may improve symptoms like chronic pain and anxiety,” said Mechtler. “Future research should focus on symptoms like sleepiness and balance problems, as well as efficacy and optimal dosing.”

Medical Marijuana Research

Research into medical marijuana and its therapeutic potential is being completed regularly. Stay on top of the latest cannabis-related studies as they’re published by visiting our news page. You can also visit our education page for an overview of cannabis research findings.