My work takes me to wellness expos around the state,many of them focused on older Mainers. In the last several months, I have been fortunate to meet hundreds of Maine seniors and to answer thousands of questions about medical marijuana. Distilling all that into a reader-friendly blog post isn’t easy, but here are five important facts about medical marijuana that every “silver citizen” should know:
1. You don’t have to smoke it.
Possibly the most frequent comment I hear is along these lines: “I’ve never smoked anything, and I’m not going to start now.” There’s good news — you don’t have to smoke it. Many people prefer to use tincture (food-grade glycerin or alcohol infused with the active compounds in the plant), or eat medicated edibles such as crackers or chocolates.
In addition to being discreet, these edible forms have a longer-lasting effect, providing from four to 10 hours of relief (compared with a single inhaled dose, which can last up to 2 hours).
Infused topical treatments such as balms and salves are yet another option. These are often helpful for neuropathic or arthritic pain, and have no psychoactive effect. Plus, if you enjoy cooking or baking, it’s easy to make your own infused products at home. Any recipe that calls for butter or oil can be infused with marijuana.
2. You don’t have to get “high.”
Marijuana plants are similar to roses in that there are many different varieties of each. Each variety of marijuana smells different, looks different and likes different growing conditions. Every variety of the marijuana plant contains dozens of therapeutically active compounds, but the euphoric buzz is caused by only one of them, called THC.
For some patients, mild euphoria is itself a therapeutic benefit (think depression, wasting syndrome or agitation of Alzheimer’s). But if that is not your cup of tea, there are many varieties of marijuana that don’t have as much THC and therefore don’t cause that “high” feeling.
3. You might be surprised at the scientific support.
In the U.S., most marijuana research is funded by government agencies that focus only on its potentially negative effects. However, scientists here and elsewhere continually discover promising information about medical marijuana’s impact on diseases related to advancing age.
Recent studies show that marijuana’s active components work with our bodies to alleviate pain and reduce symptom severity for patients with Parkinson’s, various types of cancer and Alzheimer’s. The studies linked here, and many others, indicate that the active compounds in marijuana can induce cell death in cancerous tumors and slow or even degrade the plaque buildups in the brain that lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Your body may thank you.
Even in small doses, marijuana still has side effects that seniors should discuss with their doctors, including mild euphoria, dizziness/blood pressure fluctuation, and dry mouth. And, as is true of many medicines, mixing marijuana with alcohol can have serious negative effects on motor control and decision-making.
However, considering the litany of possible (and possibly fatal) side effects recited during TV commercials for pharmaceutical drugs from Abilify to Zoloft, marijuana’s pale in comparison. And there is no lethal dose at which a consumer will die from marijuana toxicity alone — which makes it safer than even aspirin.
5. You won’t be alone.
While the so-called “Silent Generation” (age 70 and up) remains the age group least likely to approve of any marijuana use, a 2014 Truven Health Analytics NPR Health Poll indicated that fully 60 percent of this generation approves of the medical use of marijuana.
And if you are between 70-87 years of age, nearly 30 percent of your peers approve of legal recreational use of marijuana, according to Pew Research. What’s more, these same polls indicate that you’re likely to find your children and grandchildren are even more supportive than your peers, should you choose to try medical marijuana.
Furthermore, communities like the Rossmoor senior citizens’ community in California and the Hadarim nursing home outside Tel Aviv in Israel are in the vanguard in terms of supporting their residents’ use of therapeutic marijuana.
As more and more senior citizens here and across the country are realizing, medical marijuana has much to offer Maine’s elders, when used responsibly and under the care of a knowledgeable physician.
Becky DeKeuster and Dr. Stacey Thieme will co-present “Therapeutic Considerations: Cannabis and Maine’s Aging Population” on June 12 during the 25th Annual Maine Geriatrics Conference in Bar Harbor.