Dr. Richa Love, the medical director for Harvest Medicine Cannabis Clinic in Calgary, said four out of every 10 patients are in the 55-plus demographic.
“I have a couple patients over 100-years-old, which is always interesting because when a 103-year-old walks into the clinic. I'm just thinking, ‘Wow, this is great,’” said Love.
“I think that seniors are probably the biggest growing demographic because of the conditions that they have that cannabis can treat for them."
A 2019 research article in the journal, Drugs & Aging, shows medical cannabis can treat sleep loss, chronic pain and anxiety. But the researchers also say there is scanty evidence on older adults using medical cannabis and more research needs to be done.
Even so, many physicians, including Love, say traditional medications come with downsides.
“In the last few years, research has come out linking sleeping medications with increased risks of dementia,” said Love, who draws on a 2015 research study research study that examines if some pharmaceutical drugs link with a higher risk of dementia, from the University of Washington School of Pharmacy.
Love said despite the risks, some patients are still reluctant about using cannabis treatments.
“It's very hard to tell an 80-year-old that has been on sleeping pills for 20 to 30 years that, ‘I need to take you off this and sorry I don’t have a replacement.’”
Medical marijuana life-changing for Calgary senior and friends
Jeanette Provo, 63, uses medical marijuana to treat chronic back pain as well as insomnia.
“Before, I would get three hours of sleep a night with a sleeping pill, and it was typically disrupted because my mind is always busy with my job and everything else going on in my life,” said Provo, who is the executive director for the Confederation 55+ Activity Centre in Calgary.
“Afterwards what I found was I relaxed completely and I slept deeply.”
Provo laughs when she thinks about her resistance to weed as a young person.
“When I was a teenager, all of my friends smoked pot and I never did. It was never my cup of tea. And even as I grew older, all my friends were doing pot, and I just wasn’t interested in it.”
She changed her mind when she attended a conference and has never looked back.
“I’m not taking prescription drugs anymore which I’m very thankful for because I have issues with my kidneys. So for me, I’m getting the benefit of pain relief and the ability to sleep better,” said Provo.
Cannabis contains two elements used to treat common health problems — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
There are risks and benefits with both.
“THC causes impairment and can often replace sleeping pills, while CBD reduces anxiety and pain and can be taken in the form of drops without any worry of impairment,” said Love.
Despite the efficacy of both, the stigma associated with cannabis continues to stop some seniors from even considering it, said Love.
“When you’re a senior, you've gone through when cannabis was prohibited,” she said adding “the image that comes into mind is of a young person rolling a joint and sitting in a corner smoking it away, and [now] it’s such a different world.”
Times are changing
Love and Provo both agree there needs to be better education for seniors to allow them to make informed decisions.
“I think it’s just going to take time to get comfortable with a) the knowledge, and b) feeling comfortable with something that’s old school,” said Provo.
“With seniors, things get complicated, you can’t just walk into a store and just get one thing. I don’t expect the average senior to know which ones work for them, what the properties are, how it interacts with their current medication, which one is best for which medical condition. For seniors specifically, it is really important to have good cannabis resources and education,” said Love.
“I mean it’s not a bunch of potheads today, it’s medical marijuana, it’s beneficial,” said Provo.
For more information on medical cannabis, visit Cannu’s website for educational resources or Harvest Medicine’s website for additional information and consultations. The Government of Canada also provides educational resources about cannabis and the laws surrounding it province by province.
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