Would you use marijuana for medical purposes? Do think others should? Well you might be surprised to know that many older adults—some of the people who did their own marijuana sampling in the 1960s and 1970s—don’t necessarily want it for themselves, but have no qualms about anyone else using it and for whatever purpose.
A new poll by the University of Michigan (U-M) suggests that most older adults accept its use with a doctor’s recommendation, but still want more research. In fact, 4 out of 5 poll respondents between the ages of 50 and 80 said they support allowing medical marijuana if it’s recommended by a physician. And some 40% support allowing marijuana use for any reason.
As surprising as that may be, still two-thirds say the government should do more to study the drug’s health effects.
The April 2018 poll, “Older Adults’ Perspectives on Medical Marijuana: National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA)” underscores the fact that as more patients inquire about medical marijuana, it is important for clinicians to become knowledgeable about the potential benefits as well as harms. As additional states consider legalization this year, it is also important that policymakers consider gaps in knowledge about safety and effectiveness of marijuana use, said Preeti Malani, M.D., director of the U-M’s National Poll on Healthy Aging.
“With medical marijuana already legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and other states considering legalizing this use or all use, this is an issue of interest to patients, providers and policymakers alike,” said Malani, who is trained in geriatric medicine and is a professor of internal medicine and an infectious disease specialist at U-M Medical School. Malani currently serves as U-M’s chief health officer and is associate editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The widespread support by older Americans for more research on the effects of marijuana is especially significant, Malani said, given the growing legalization trend in states and the continued federal policy that marijuana use is illegal.
The U-M NPHA helps inform the public, health care providers, policymakers and senior advocates on issues related to health, health care and health policy affecting Americans 50 years of age and older by tapping into the perspectives of older adults and their caregivers.
Launched in spring 2017, the NPHA grew out of a strong interest in aging-related issues among many members of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI), which brings together more than 500 faculty who study health, health care and the impacts of health policy. In addition to IHPI and AARP, the poll receives support from Michigan Medicine, the U-M academic medical center.
Though half of respondents said they believed prescription pain medications were more effective than marijuana for pain relief, more than two-thirds said they thought that marijuana can indeed ease pain.
Malanai pointed out that the poll results indicate older Americans have a sense of wariness, rather than wholehearted acceptance, around medical use of marijuana, and shed new light on older Americans’ attitudes toward the use of marijuana to control pain—one of the most common conditions cited in state medical marijuana statutes. This may be surprising to those who think of the Baby Boom generation—who are now in their mid-50s to early 70s—as embracing marijuana use in their youth in the 1960s and 1970s, she said.
“While just 6% of our poll respondents said they’d used marijuana for medical purposes themselves, 18% said they know someone who has,” Malani said. While 6% may seem small, across the U.S. population this represents millions of older adults, she said.
According to poll results, just under one-third of respondents said they feel that marijuana definitely provides pain relief, and another 38% said it probably does. But only 14% thought marijuana was more effective than prescription pain medication, while 48% believed the opposite and 38% believed the two were equally effective. When it came to controlling dosages for pain relief, though, prescription pain medicine won out: 41% thought it would be easier to control dosage with medication.
But prescription pain medicine also won on the subject of negative effects. Well over half, at 57%, said that prescription pain medicines have more side effects than marijuana, and some 48% believe the medications are more addictive than marijuana.
“These perceptions of relative safety and efficacy are important for physicians, other providers and public health regulators to understand,” Malani said. Marijuana use, particularly long-term use, has been associated with impaired memory, decision making and ability to perform complex tasks, she said. And whether these associations are true remains to be seen as there are limited data on the health effects of marijuana use in older adults. Nevertheless, these poll findings indicate an appetite for further government-funded research as well as efforts to standardize dosing.
“Although older adults may be a bit wary about marijuana, the majority support more research on it,” said Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “This openness to more research likely speaks to a desire to find safe, alternative treatments to control pain.”
As a physician who specializes in infectious diseases and geriatrics, Malani notes that providers should be routinely asking older patients about marijuana use. Yet only one in five poll respondents said their primary health care provider had asked whether they use marijuana.
Still, the majority of respondents said they felt comfortable talking about marijuana with their doctors. Some 70 percent of those who answered the poll said they would definitely or probably ask their provider about marijuana if they had a serious medical condition that might respond to it. For Malani, that means providers need to be ready to answer questions and provide counseling to patients, especially in states where medical marijuana is legal.
The poll results are based on answers from a nationally representative sample of 2,007 people ages 50 to 80. The poll respondents answered a wide range of questions and the data was interpreted and compiled by the M-U IHPI team.
Outside of the poll, women suffering from cancer to migraines say they want the option of medical marijuana, but in the meantime they are utilizing the legal option, cannabidiol hemp oil, or CBD hemp oil.
According to Medical Marijuana, Inc., CBD hemp oil is made from high-CBD, low-THC hemp, “unlike medical marijuana products, which are usually made from plants with high concentrations of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)…Cannabidiol (CBD) is just one of over 85 cannabinoids presently identified in the cannabis plant and is the second most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana after THC. In hemp, however, THC is only present in trace amounts, while CBD dominates the plant’s makeup. CBD interacts with our naturally occurring systems, but is non-psychotropic, it doesn’t cause a high.”
Shannon Lokke Nelson suffered from stage IIIB ovarian cancer—a high-grade serous carcinoma and uncommon form of endometrial cancer. She said though medical marijuana did not help her, she completely supports its use by others in any circumstance where it might help ease their suffering.
“In addition to standard intravenous chemo, I also had an abdominal port for intraperitoneal chemo which can be a particularly brutal regimen,” she said. “When I was doing chemo, I was severely ill. For 3 to 5 days of each round I never left my bed other than to use the restroom. The nausea was unrelenting, but I had to keep trying to eat. The sight of food made me get sick. In my online support group, several ladies from medical marijuana states were singing its praises for controlling nausea and poor appetite. Sadly, it did not have the same effect on me. I instantly got violently ill. I had similar results years ago attempting to treat migraines with marijuana. However, many women claim to achieve great relief of both chemo and migraine symptoms, and I would never deny those people anything that could help. Had I been in a legal state, I would have.”
Nelson agrees more research is needed. “We don’t have a lot of medical evidence about the benefits of medical marijuana because of the way it is currently classified,” she said. “I cannot comprehend why we would deny ourselves this knowledge. Since our research is so hindered by ridiculous laws, we are forced to rely on anecdotal experience. Marijuana has shown to be greatly beneficial in seizure disorders, any illness that is complicated by poor appetite, and it has proven to reduce reliance on medically necessary painkillers that are known to cause addiction. I would be very interested to see a study done on anti-anxiety prescriptions such as Xanax in states that have approved medical marijuana. I suspect the reductions in such prescriptions are astonishing. The pharmaceutical industry has a lot to lose to medical marijuana, and they know it.”
Nelson said her mother suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, another potential target for treatment with medical marijuana. “It angers me that she cannot afford the high-dollar prescriptions that would help, yet she is denied this inexpensive natural herb that is known to reduce the pain and inflammation. There are many older people who refuse to try it even if it is legal in their states because of the reputation marijuana has. If they knew how and why it was made illegal in the first place, they would be appalled.”
Nelson is now 15 months cancer free.
Another woman who chose to remain anonymous said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April of last year and as a result now suffers from chemo-induced neuropathy. “I did chemo, a lumpectomy and radiation and am now finishing up my year of chemo and will be on an anti-estrogen pill for 5 to 10 years. I ended up getting chemo-induced neuropathy and have been suffering ever since.”
She said she recently started using CBD oil to help with bone and joint pain caused by the anti-estrogen pill. “I just started vaping CBD oil to help with my pain to go along with all the supplements I’m taking. I wanted to stay away from the pain pills, and this is the exact reason why I’m vaping the CBD oil. It does help with the pain, by the way, so I’m happy with my decision. I just wish that insurance would help cover it, because it’s not cheap.”
Debbie Benton, 53, has PNES or Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, PNES are attacks that look like epileptic seizures, but are not caused by abnormal brain electrical discharges. “I pass out and have seizures multiple times a day,” Benton said. “There are no medications for my condition. However, CBD oil does help to lessen the severity and frequency. If medical marijuana was legal in Missouri, I would use it.”
Benton said CBD is available from some doctors and online. “It is not illegal, but a small bottle can be $60 and more. It is not covered by insurance,” she said. “My doctor does not give it to me and will not give me medical marijuana when it is legal in Missouri. She is against marijuana in any way.”
Benton said she would have no problem speaking with her physician about marijuana. “I already have, so when the time comes, I will be looking for a new doctor.”
Kira Rogge, 50, said she has been using CBD oil daily for almost a year now for anxiety. “I was put on Zanax and Prozac shortly after my heart attack a year and a half ago. The oil has completely replaced both medications and my anxiety is very well controlled now,” she said. “I believe strongly in the benefits.”
Shannon Yuede too has some strong feelings about marijuana as medicine and otherwise. “It’s an herb. It grows naturally of the Earth. God intended it to be here, so we should use it for helping people. Hemp, CBD, marijuana all have so many benefits for our world that if people would just open their eyes and minds they could see these benefits,” she said. “We put awful chemicals in our bodies every day: margarine, GMO’s, MSG, synthetic dyes, the list is long, and that is my point. An herb placed on Earth by God that is 100% natural and untreated chemically that has so many benefits must be 10,000 times better for us all than any of things I mentioned. Paper, pain reliever, cancer thwarter, anxiety relief, the benefits list is long. Am I pro MJ? You bet. Medical or not.”
These ladies aren’t alone. In May, legendary actress and singer Olivia Newton-John shocked her fans with the revelation that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time.
According to an article in “Daily Mail,” the illness had metastasized to her spine, leaving the 69-year-old Australian icon in agonizing pain. In December, she told Richard “Dickie” Wilkins of the Today Show that medical cannabis had helped to eliminate her discomfort.
The “Grease” star is married to John Easterling, an importer of Amazonian herbal medicine. Her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, is a marijuana farmer, the article states.
Amy Brooks, whose husband died recently from multiple comorbidities, said one of his doctors recommended marijuana for his pain. “We said no,” she said. “Knowing what I do now and how long-term pain med use vandalized his body, I wouldn’t make the same choice now. We are Christians and it’s illegal, and so we just kept going with meds. Maybe we needed to ‘lighten’ up.”