Cannabis researchers are beginning to study the use of medical cannabis among seniors. According to CTV News, the Ontario Long Term Care Association in Canada has launched a new study on cannabis use among seniors in light of growing interest among the elderly.
The study is a six-month pilot program that will monitor the effects of medical cannabis use among 500 senior participants living in long-term care facilities. Candace Chartier, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, says that many caretakers have already reported positive results.
“It is making an impact, it’s less time required to care for the residents. The caregivers that are coming in are seeing a difference in the level of pain,” said Chartier.
Medical cannabis has been used to treat a range of ailments including chronic pain, and has been legalized in 33 U.S. states.
OLTCA will coordinate the six-month program with cannabis company Canopy Growth and develop screening tools for caregivers and medical professionals.
“It will become a clinical support tool,” Chartier said.
Another six-month study will be launching in British Columbia, coordinated by cannabis company Tilray. The study, which will include 600 to 1,000 participants, will examine the impact of medical cannabis on sleep, chronic pain, and quality of life in patients over the age of 50.
Dr Blake Pearson, who will be leading the study, says that cannabis isn’t for everyone, but that 60% to 70% of patients who try it have experienced some form of improvement.
“Oftentimes, I’m able to treat a geriatric patient with cannabis oil and reduce potentially two to three of their other medications as a result, because it’s multimodal,” said Pearson. “So we can treat pain, anxiety, sleep with one thing, as opposed to three or four different medications.”
This is beneficial considering the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. is drug overdose. But, it’s also beneficial because of the amount of money it can save seniors on medical treatments.
In Long Island, the average price of a nursing facility is $15,000 a month. The cost of multiple medications on top of the price of a long-term care nursing facility can put many seniors in major financial straits.
By using cannabis rather than multiple medications, it could help seniors save their retirement funds. But, according to Dr Mark Ware, the chief medical officer of Canopy, medical cannabis research hasn’t been extensively tested on the elderly to ensure its prolonged safety and effectiveness.
Until now, medical cannabis research has focused on children and middle-aged patients suffering from epilepsy or chronic pain. More than 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain worldwide.
Ware says the elderly haven’t received a lot of attention when it comes to cannabis because there’s a chance cannabinoids could affect them differently.
“They may require smaller doses,” said Ware, “they may metabolize drugs more slowly.”
These beliefs aren’t unfounded. Seniors may experience adverse side effects to medications and surgeries that would be considered safe for someone younger. These side effects can lead to lengthened hospital stays, which can worsen certain disabilities.
And although family and caregivers can do things to help improve seniors’ hospital experiences like buying flowers (37% of flowers are bought as gifts) or getting patients to be social (depression is a big risk among the elderly), University of California geriatrics researcher Ken Covinsky says that hospital stays are still worse for the elderly.
“A lot of the stuff we do in medicine does more harm than good,” said Covinsky. “And sometimes with the care of older people, less is more.”
This is where medical cannabis may be the most beneficial. Chartier says that reducing the number of medications taken by senior patients not only improves their quality of life but it also improves the quality of the workplace for nursing facility staff.
“[Reducing medications] could potentially reduce the medication administration time and could almost cut it in half,” Chartier said.
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