seniors choosing cannabis
Maria Sykes
Maria Sykes
April 18, 2024 ·  5 min read

Seniors Choosing Cannabis over Opioids for Pain More Than Ever – 3 Possible Reasons Why

Whether they’re inhaling it, baking it, or using it in oil form, more and more older adults are using marijuana! For some reason getting high is associated with younger audiences and there is a lot of research that has been carried out on the health effects on younger people. However, research into the consequences of marijuana on senior people is somewhat lacking even though taking cannabis may have a myriad of healthy benefits for them!

The popularity of marijuana amongst seniors continues to rise as a decade ago a mere 2.8% of elderly people said they had taken it whilst in 2013 a whopping 71% increase at 4.8% said they had taken marijuana (1).  The benefits and risks associated with cannabis and older people will be discussed further below.

Benefits of Marijuana Use in Senior Populations

Asian man marijuana researcher checking marijuana cannabis plantation in cannabis farm, Business agricultural cannabis. Cannabis business and alternative medicine concept.
Source: Shutterstock

With so many health difficulties influencing our lives, as we get older, it seems clear that finding new and more natural ways to combat some of the illnesses associated with age is the way forward. And it appears as though that is exactly what senior citizens are doing.

Read More: 7 Surprising Side Effects of Cannabis After 50

1. Cannabis May Reduce Dependence on Opioids

Woman holding a dropper of sublingual cbd cannabis hemp oil - Alternative medical treatment
Source: Shutterstock

Unfortunately, as seniors get older, many get stuck in a vicious cycle of medications and painkillers. But, older generations have grown increasingly more accepting of medical cannabis and its potential to help with their health ailments.

In March 2018, a study published in The European Journal of Internal Medicine indicated that cannabis use is both safe and effective when used by elderly populations. In it the researchers noted that the most common use amongst seniors was for pain and cancer-related symptoms. Six months after cannabis treatment over 93% reported improvements in their condition (2).

“After monitoring patients 65 and older for six months, we found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported.” (2)

Naturally, some participants experienced very mild side effects, including dizziness (9.7 percent) and dry mouth (7.1 percent). However, on a scale from 0-10, almost 94 percent of them reported that medical cannabis usage reduced their pain levels from a median of eight down to four.

What was even more amazing, according to researchers was that after six months, 18.1% of the study participants reported that they had either stopped using opioids or reduced their dosage (3).

2. Eases the Pain of Arthritis

Portrait of scientist with mask, glasses and gloves checking hemp plants in a greenhouse. Concept of herbal alternative medicine, cbd oil, pharmaceptical industry
Source: Shutterstock

From 2010- 2012, an estimated 52.5 million US adults (22.7%) annually had been told by a doctor that they had some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia. Of people aged 65 or older, 49.7% ever reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis in the United States. No wonder scientists and researchers are looking for a natural way to help ease the pain of arthritis(2), especially since a whopping 4.6 million Canadians suffering from arthritis said that the pain was their main complaint (4).

Many people suffering from arthritis suffer from a condition called rheumatoid arthritis which can be very painful. This paper looks at the effects of medical marijuana on rheumatoid arthritis and its benefits in lowering pain levels. Here is a guide you can follow if you believe you could use medical cannabis prescribed by your doctor for arthritis.

3. Decreases Symptoms of Chemotherapy

Woman with cancer during chemotherapy recovering from illness in hospital
Source: Shutterstock

One of the main side effects of chemotherapy is feelings of nausea (5). Marijuana has been found to reduce the feelings of this side effect, helping patients cope with the unfortunate circumstances they are in.

It has also been said that cannabis can increase appetite, which can be easily lost when going through chemotherapy. With such high statistics, with 70% of deaths through cancer being older citizens (6), it seems important to try any techniques to fight the adverse symptoms of chemotherapy.

Although there are many positives associated with cannabis use and older citizens, it is important to take into consideration the many side effects marijuana consumption can cause.

Risks associated with cannabis and the older generation

Senior woman holding a joint in her hand
Source: Shutterstock

The risks associated with cannabis are clear and far more researched in comparison to the benefits when considering elderly people (7). Some of these risks are discussed below.

Read More: Cannabis Gum: Would You Try Chewing Your Way To Pain Relief?

Cannabis Dependence

Bearded senior man preparing and rolling marijuana cannabis joint. Drugs narcotic concept.
Source: Shutterstock

The increased use of cannabis in older people also increases the number of people becoming dependent on the substance (8), especially if it is used to prevent or help with pain. Although substance abuse in the elderly hasn’t been thoroughly enough researched to come to any claims, it is clear that there can and very much may be a serious problem associated with the use of illicit drugs and the older generation (9).

Lung Health

REHOVOT - JULY 17 2011:Disabled senior man smoking medical Cannabis at home.Marijuana is illegal in Israel but medical use has been permitted since the early 1990s for patients pain-related illnesses.
Source: Shutterstock

Of course, cannabis can also be associated with worsening or creating new health conditions after use.  A lot of cannabis users will smoke the substance, this can lead to a myriad of  lung health problems:

  • bronchitis
  • phlegm production
  • chronic cough
  • wheezing

Smoking cannabis can clearly damage the lungs (10). And if you are an older citizen then your lungs may be at even more risk to damage so smoking marijuana would not be the best option.

Mental Health

REHOVOT - JULY 17 2011:Senior man smoking medical Cannabis at home garden. Marijuana is illegal in Israel but medical use has been permitted since the early 1990s for patients pain-related illnesses.
Source: Shutterstock

Using cannabis, whether medically or recreationally has been said to have effects on mental health, from:

  • Memory loss (something you probably can’t afford to lose more of as an older person)
  • concentration harm
  • inability to make decisions
  • decreased IQ (11)

Read More: Cannabis Ages Brain By Almost 3 Years, Study Claims

Disclaimer: With many side effects associated with marijuana whether it is worth taking the risk or not is up to you and your doctor. Please consult your physician before consuming cannabis or any other medication you think may help with your symptoms. Although there are many benefits to marijuana it is also important to note that the research it is based upon is not solid and more information needs to be collected on the subject matter.

Editors Note (09/08/2020): A version of this article was originally published in December 2016, but has been republished to reflect current editorial standards on The Hearty Soul. Some edits have been made throughout for clarity and accuracy.