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Older adults function better with medical cannabis, finds study

Medical cannabis was associated with improvements in activites such as shopping, preparing food, housekeeping and managing medications.

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The majority of patients reported some improvement following treatment with cannabis.

A new study exploring the effects of medical cannabis in older adults found improvements in day to day functionality, as well as reductions in pain and opioid use.

Cannabis use is increasing among older adults, particularly over the last decade as it becomes more widely available and accepted.

The 2022 Monitoring the Future panel study annual report, which tracks trends and prevalence of drug use, found that approximately 20% of Americans between the ages of 50 and 60 have consumed cannabis within the past 12 months.

This was said to be the highest percentage ever recorded by the survey among this age group, with many likely to be using it for its potential therapeutic properties. Previous surveys have suggested that this age group generally use cannabis for pain and sleep disorders, with generally positive results.

A new study from Israel aimed to assess the effects of medical cannabis use on older adults, specifically its impact on their day to day function which according to the paper, has not been explored in previous studies. 

The researchers conducted an observational study on 120 patients aged 65 and older who were prescribed cannabis for a variety of conditions, but mostly chronic non-cancer pain. 

The majority of participants were taking cannabis tinctures containing various levels of CBD and THC. 

Functionality, pain and opioid use 

Findings showed that the majority of patients (86%) reported some improvement following treatment with cannabis over the six month study period, as well as reductions in pain and prescription opioid use. 

Researchers also measured the effects of cannabis on activities of daily living (ADL) – which included bathing, dressing, feeding and going to the toilet – and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), such as using a telephone, shopping, preparing food, housekeeping, laundry, finance managing, and responsibility for medications.

They found that the treatment was associated with improvements in IADL, but not ADL. However, there was a ‘significant difference’ between age groups, with younger patients having a ‘higher probability’ of achieving better IADL scores.

“The mechanism by which cannabis possibly improves the functional status is by improving chronic pain, mood, and general well-being. Another potential mechanism is the reductions in certain drugs, such as benzodiazepines, which have been shown to impact functional status in older adults,” the researchers state.

“All these changes enable older adults to function more independently in society, but these changes cannot improve functions such as continence, toileting, or dressing, which are reflected in the ADL scores. Thus, it is not surprising that medical cannabis improves IADL but not ADL.”

More evidence-based data is ‘essential’

The authors note a number of limitations of the study, including the fact the observational nature only allows them to identify an association rather than causality, the variability in the cannabis consumed, and the fact that the majority of the participants were being treated for pain.

They add that it is ‘essential’ to gather more evidence-based data on the effects of cannabis in older adults. 

In the paper’s conclusion, the researchers write: “Medical cannabis in older adults can improve functional status and mood, as illustrated by better scores in IADL and GDS [Geriatric Depression Scale] after six months of treatment. In addition, it is perceived as contributing to the general condition and reduces pain and the use of analgesics, including opioids. It is essential to gather additional evidence-based data, including data from double-blind randomized controlled trials, for this specific population.”

Read the full study here 

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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