A new study on the impacts of medical marijuana on older adults finds that cannabis-based products may provide multiple therapeutic benefits for the demographic, including for health, well-being, sleep and mood.

Authors also observed “sizable reductions in pain severity and pain interference among older aged patients [reporting] chronic pain as their primary condition.”

The research, published this week in the journal Drugs and Aging, is meant to address what authors call “a general paucity of high quality research” around cannabis and older adults “and a common methodological practice of excluding those aged over 65 years from clinical trials” at a time when older patients are increasingly turning to medical marijuana for relief.

“International evidence that older individuals may be the fastest-growing increase in the use of medical marijuana, coupled with their frequent exclusion from controlled trials, indicates a growing need for real-world evidence to assess the effectiveness and safety of these drugs for older individuals,” the paper says.

“There were consistent improvements across measures of general health and well-being after 3 months of treatment. There were also sizable reductions in pain severity and pain interference.”

The five-person research team, from the UK-based organization Drug Science and Imperial College London’s Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, looked at data from T21, a “large observational study of individuals seeking prescribed cannabis for a range of primary conditions in the UK” that was launched in 2020.

The prescribing of cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) has been legal in the UK since 2018, authors note, although “there has been a lack of access on the National Health Service and CBMPs is most commonly prescribed via the private sector.” And while national guidelines recommend only two products and one synthetic cannabinoid, “there are currently over 200 unlicensed CBMPs available for prescription in the UK.”

“Older aged individuals experience considerable improvement in health and well-being when prescribed cannabis-based medicinal products.”

Patient outcomes were measured by self-reported measures of quality of life, general health, mood and sleep. Results showed “consistent improvements in each of the four well-being measures between entry to treatment and the 3-month follow up.”

“Older aged individuals who continue on CBMPs report considerable improvement in health and well-being when prescribed CBMPs,” the analysis found. “While the extent of improvement in quality of life and mood was less for older individuals that for those aged under 65 years, it was still substantial and, together with improvements in general health and sleep, suggests that older aged individuals may derive multiple health benefits from CBMPs.”

“There were significant reductions in depressed mood and in sleep difficulties.”

The levels of improvement on general health, quality of life and sleep, the research says, “were similar for older and younger aged individuals.”

Authors said the findings begin to fill a gap in existing marijuana research.

“There is currently a lack of published data on prescribed medical cannabis use in older individuals in the UK,” authors wrote. A national survey by the Centre for Medical Cannabis “failed to distinguish older individuals aged over 55 years,” they noted, and population data on marijuana use by people older than 59 is not collected by the country’s Office for National Statistics. Survey data also didn’t differentiate between medical and recreational use.

There were some notable differences between the younger and older groups of patients surveyed in the new study. For example, a larger proportion of older patients were female, more reported chronic pain as a primary condition and more likely to be taking multiple prescribed drugs. They were less likely, however, to have used marijuana before and less likely to have reported using it daily prior to the start of treatment.

“Theses analyses indicated a substantial reduction in pain severity.”

In terms of products prescribed, patients over 64 were “more likely to receive CBD dominant oil and less likely to receive THC dominant flower by prescription.”

“Despite these differences, there was evidence of consistent improvement across multiple measures of well-being for these individuals after initiating use of medical cannabis,” the report continues. “Although it appeared that the extent of improvements in both mood and quality of life was lower in those aged 65 years or older compared with younger individuals, the improvements were considerable and contribute to our currently limited understanding of medical cannabis in older individuals.”

On this side of the Atlantic, U.S. officials at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced this spring that the agency will use $8.4 million to support clinical trials into the safety and efficacy of psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat chronic pain in older adults.

A government notice about the grant program says the research can include “classic” psychedelics—including psilocybin, DMT, LSD and mescaline—as well as similar compounds such as MDMA. Cannabis and ketamine are not considered psychedelics for the purposes of the clinical trials.

A federally funded study last year, meanwhile, found that among U.S. adults, cannabis and psychedelic use were both at “historic highs,” while teen marijuana use remained stable.

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Photo courtesy of Kimzy Nanney.

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 A new study on the impacts of medical marijuana on older adults finds that cannabis-based products may provide multiple therapeutic benefits for the demographic, including for health, well-being, sleep and mood. Authors also observed “sizable reductions in pain severity and pain interference among older aged patients [reporting] chronic pain as their primary condition.” The research,  Read More  

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