Medical Cannabis Research Turns to Seniors in Long-Term Care

Constant back pain is one of the most common complaints for the elderly. However while Cannabis has been shown to be an effective treatment for back pain among a range of other conditions, the elderly are yet to take to the revolutionary cannabis therapies.

Many of the elderly have heard of cannabis and how it can relieve pain, but attitudes towards opioids and little experience with Marijuana remain a sticking point when it comes to adoption. Many still have reservations about Cannabis given that they tend to have at best spotty information that is often negative according to a recent medical marijuana information session held in Toronto. For the elderly, who may be on up to three or even more medications for different illnesses and conditions, the lack of data on how cannabis therapies interact with these medications turns many off. Even persons that may be convinced to accept a medical cannabis prescription may still not go ahead to purchase the therapy, because they are unsure of how it will interact with their diabetes or hypertension medication.

That being said, many elderly people are interested in Cannabis according to Ontario Long Term Care Association CEO Candace Chartier. According to Chartier, many of her elderly patients are asking a lot of questions regarding Marijuana, which indicates that there is a need for further study on Marijuana and the elderly. In this regard, the center has set up a six-month pilot study to assess and track how effective cannabis therapies are on seniors in long-term care facilities in Ontario. Chartier has already had positive results for residents that have tried out Medical Cannabis to treat or alleviate a range of conditions. While it is still early days and the studies are on a small scale, the results are promising. Some of the benefits include less time to care for the patients at the facility, and for the patients reduced levels of pain. Over time the program will roll out on a large scale and in conjunction with Canopy Growth a cannabis company that supplies the Marijuana, will develop screening tools for caregivers, doctors, pharmacists, and nurses as well as coordinating the running of the program. With results from such studies, caregivers will be in a better position to follow proven and tested methodologies of providing care using these therapies.

It is not enough to have just one study and hence the news that Tilray, the B.C. based cannabis company is conducting another study is welcome news. Some of the most important aspects when it comes to the elderly include the impact of cannabis therapies on quality of life, perception of pain, and sleep. This study will have several data points as it will be conducted in New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Sarnia. Ontario. One of the biggest impediments to cannabis research and its effect on the elderly is that there are too few or in some instances no prospective studies or longitudinal tracking done over time. With this study, between 600 – 1000 patients will be taking part, which will provide as much data as needed to make conclusions on medical cannabis outcomes on the elderly. To make certain of the veracity of the study, it will be led by Dr. Blake Pearson, a cannabis specialist that has been working in the provision of long-term care therapies for the elderly in Sarnia, Ontario.

While medical cannabis is an effective therapy for many people, not everyone that tries it out will see improvement or alleviation of their symptoms or conditions. Nonetheless, between 60-70% of patients who take medical cannabis will have some improvement according to Dr. Pearsons a medical cannabis specialist. One of the best things about cannabis oil is that it is a multimodal treatment that will likely deal with two or three conditions. As such, by taking medical cannabis you could effectively not need to take two or three medications. For instance, instead of taking sleep, anxiety, and pain medications, taking only cannabis can be all you need rather than three or four different drugs or therapies. The best thing about this is that not only do patient have a better quality of life, but the caregivers also get to have a better workplace as their workload is reduced.

Most of the research on cannabis has been on spasticity and chronic pain on the middle-aged, and on epilepsy for children with the elderly completely left out. Just like a child would react differently to medication as compared to an adult, it is likely that the elderly may also have different outcomes when on cannabis therapies as compared to younger persons. Dr. Mark Ware, the chief medical officer of Canopy and a pain specialist that served on the task force charged with the legalization of medical cannabis in Marijuana, asserts that the elderly may have a slower metabolism, which may call for lower doses. The research will definitely provide better data if it is performed in long-term care facilities such as the studies in the Tilray and Ontario studies. Long-term care facilities are the best for these types of studies due to their robust systems for tracking the health of patients, including pain and sleep scores, neurocognitive symptoms and the administration of medication.

One of the reasons the elderly have a lot of reservations regarding medical cannabis is that most studies lack the objectivity to assess the outcomes of medical cannabis, given that many are conducted by companies with a stake in the results. Nonetheless, with more organizations taking up the mantle of research, it is only a matter of time before reliable research that addresses the concerns of the elderly reaches critical mass in terms of objectivity.

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