15% of older adults use cannabis to treat common health conditions – US study

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With growing interest in its potential health benefits and new legislation favouring legalisation in more states in America, cannabis use is becoming more common among older adults. University of California – San Diego researchers found that 15% had used cannabis and that 61% of the cannabis users began after age 60.

The School of Medicine researchers reported that older adults use cannabis primarily for medical purposes to treat a variety of common health conditions, including pain, sleep disturbances and psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression, write Michelle Brubaker and Scott LaFee in a UC San Diego article.

The study, published online on 7 October 7 2020 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that of 568 patients surveyed, 15% had used cannabis within the past three years, with half of users reporting using it regularly and mostly for medical purposes.

“Pain, insomnia and anxiety were the most common reasons for cannabis use and, for the most part, patients reported that cannabis was helping to address these issues, especially with insomnia and pain,” said Dr Christopher Kaufmann, co-first author of the study and assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego.

Patients surveyed in the study were seen at the Medicine for Seniors Clinic at UC San Diego Health over a period of 10 weeks.

The researchers also found that 61% of the patients who used cannabis had initiated use after age 60.

“Surprisingly, we found that nearly three-fifths of cannabis users reported using cannabis for the first time as older adults. These individuals were a unique group compared to those who used cannabis in the past,” said Kevin Yang, co-first author and third-year medical student at UC San Diego.

“New users were more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons than for recreation. The route of cannabis use also differed with new users more likely to use it topically as a lotion rather than by smoking or ingesting as edibles. Also, they were more likely to inform their doctor about their cannabis use, which reflects that cannabis use is no longer as stigmatised as it was previously.”

Given the rise in availability of CBD-only products, which is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid in contrast to THC-containing products, the researchers said it is likely that future surveys will continue to document a larger proportion of older adults using cannabis or cannabis-based products for the first time.

“The findings demonstrate the need for the clinical workforce to become aware of cannabis use by seniors and to gain awareness of both the benefits and risks of cannabis use in their patient population,” said Dr Alison Moore, senior author and chief of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“Given the prevalence of use, it may be important to incorporate evidence-backed information about cannabis use into medical school and use screening questions about cannabis as a regular part of clinic visits.”

The researchers said future studies are imperative to better understanding the efficacy and safety of different formulations of cannabis in treating common conditions in older adults, both to maximise benefit and minimise harm.

Said Kaufmann: “There seems to be potential with cannabis, but we need more evidence-based research. We want to find out how cannabis compares to current medications available. Could cannabis be a safer alternative to treatments, such as opioids and benzodiazepines?

“Could cannabis help reduce the simultaneous use of multiple medications in older persons? We want to find out which conditions cannabis is most effective in treating. Only then can we better counsel older adults on cannabis use,” s.

Geriatrics at UC San Diego Health was recently ranked thirteenth in the nation in the 2020-2021 US News & World Report survey. The geriatrics and gerontology team at UC San Diego Health is committed to providing top quality, evidence-based care to older adults.

 

Cannabis: An Emerging Treatment for Common Symptoms in Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Published on 7 October 2020.

This study was presented at the American Geriatrics Society 2020 meeting.

Authors

Kevin H Yang, Christopher N Kaufmann, Reva Nafsu, Ella T Lifset, Khai Nguyen, Michelle Sexton, Benjamin H Han, Arum Kim and Alison A Moore.

Abstract

Use of cannabis is increasing in a variety of populations in the United States; however, few investigations about how and for what reasons cannabis is used in older populations exist.

Design and setting

Anonymous survey, Geriatrics clinic.

Participants

A total of 568 adults 65 years and older.

Measurements

Survey assessing characteristics of cannabis use.

Results

Approximately 15% (N = 83) of survey responders reported using cannabis within the past 3 years. Half (53%) reported using cannabis regularly on a daily or weekly basis, and reported using cannabidiol‐only products (46%).

The majority (78%) used cannabis for medical purposes only, with the most common targeted conditions/symptoms being pain/arthritis (73%), sleep disturbance (29%), anxiety (24%) and depression (17%). Just over three‐quarters reported cannabis “somewhat” or “extremely” helpful in managing one of these conditions, with few adverse effects.

Just over half obtained cannabis via a dispensary, and lotions (35%), tinctures (35%) and smoking (30%) were the most common administration forms. Most indicated family members (94%) knew about their cannabis use, about half reported their friends knew, and 41% reported their healthcare provider knowing.

Sixty‐one% used cannabis for the first time as older adults (aged ≥61 years), and these users overall engaged in less risky use patterns (eg more likely to use for medical purposes, less likely to consume via smoking).

Conclusion

Most older adults in the sample initiated cannabis use after the age of 60 years and used it primarily for medical purposes to treat pain, sleep disturbance, anxiety, and/or depression. Cannabis use by older adults is likely to increase due to medical need, favourable legalisation, and attitudes.

 

Study Finds Older Adults Using Cannabis to Treat Common Health Conditions

 

Cannabis: An Emerging Treatment for Common Symptoms in Older Adults

 


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