A new study on the use of medical cannabis by elderly patients has found that the drug is safe and effective, and can also help wean chronic pain sufferers off of addictive opioid medications. Researchers from Hebrew University and the Ben Gurion University of Negrev distributed questionnaires to 2736 patients aged 65 or older who were receiving medical cannabis treatments in a clinic in Israel. Six months later, the patients received a second questionnaire asking them to self-report changes in their pain intensity and quality of life after receiving the cannabis-based treatment.
"After six months of treatment, 93.7 percent of the respondents reported improvement in their condition, and the reported pain level was reduced from a median of 8 on a scale of 0-10 to a median of 4," the researchers wrote, according to a preview of the upcoming report that will be published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine. Most of the respondents also reported an improvement in their overall quality of life. The majority of these patients were using cannabis to treat chronic pain or cancer, and after six months of medical cannabis use, around 18% of these patients were able to reduce their dosage of opioid medications or even stop using them entirely.
"Our study finds that the therapeutic use of cannabis is safe and efficacious in the elderly population," the researchers concluded. "Cannabis use may decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids. Gathering more evidence-based data, including data from double-blind randomized-controlled trials, in this special population is imperative."
The study is timely, as cannabis use has been steadily increasing among the elderly over the past several years. A 2016 study found that the number of adults over 65 who used cannabis within the past year increased by 250% from 2006 to 2013, based on information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The study also adds to the growing pool of evidence demonstrating that cannabis can be an effective and safe replacement for addictive opioid-based medications.
And though the number of elderly cannabis users is increasing, the majority of the "Silent Generation" of Americans aged 71 or older are opposed to full cannabis legalization. A new survey from the Pew Research Center found that while 70% of millennials, 66% of Gen Xers, and even 43% of Republicans all support legal weed, only 35% of the Silent Generation are in favor of full legalization.