Older Americans are flocking to medical marijuana

Cannabis products are increasingly popular among older adults, despite still-limited scientific evidence and mixed feelings by doctors.

Cannabis products are increasingly popular among older adults, despite still-limited scientific evidence and mixed feelings by doctors. In Laguna Woods, CA, so many older adults use medical cannabis for conditions ranging from arthritis to insomnia that one area dispensary charters a free bus for residents to bring them to its Santa Ana location, providing a catered lunch and a seniors discount for those on the bus. As the number of states legalizing medical marijuana rises, doctors who treat older adults predict their cannabis use will increase. So far, 33 states and Washington, DC, have legalized medical marijuana, and 10 states have also legalized recreational use. Duke University Medical Center's David Casarett, MD, and Joshua Briscoe, MD, coauthors of a recent study on medical marijuana and older adults in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, hope that the federal government will reclassify cannabis, reducing barriers to much-needed research. "We're always searching for a better medication that can treat pain and a host of other symptoms without burdensome adverse events, and cannabis is promising" as a treatment for numerous conditions, Briscoe said. A key point, Casarett said, is that cannabis can assuage neuropathic pain—often caused by diabetes, shingles, or chemotherapy—without the harmful effects of opioids. But the researchers are concerned that older adults are essentially engaging in self-treatment, with little oversight from medical professionals. "The social support and legislation is outpacing the research," Briscoe said. "If I want to say, 'Take this dose for this condition and that dose for that one'—the evidence just isn't there."