Florida is a beautiful state with over 1,000 miles of coastline, comfortable winters and not terribly expensive real estate relative to some other tropical destinations. For the over 3.3 million Florida seniors aged 65 or over, the largest draw may be that family and friends are just a domestic flight away.
Medical marijuana has now been added to the mix of life in Florida and residents are still unsure of what to think about it. Everyone has likely heard that there is a debate going on about the medical value of marijuana, but for most Florida seniors they may also be thinking about all of the negative things they heard about marijuana throughout their lives. Very little research has been conducted on marijuana relative to the drugs that doctor’s typically prescribe, so the truth is that we never really knew whether marijuana was more harmful or helpful. Today, more than half the country believes that marijuana can actually be quite helpful with 29 states now officially offering medical marijuana and more to come.
The relief that medical marijuana can provide seems to particularly target ailments like chronic pain and inflammation. Florida seniors know all too well the discomfort they often find themselves in, and the amount of pills that are prescribed to them and the side-effects that come with some of those pills. There is even medical marijuana that does not involve any sort of high feeling. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the specific compound found in marijuana that reduces pain and inflammation minus the euphoric feeling, and there are products offered at medical marijuana treatment centers that just have CBD in it. Have you asked your doctor about medical marijuana?
Many older adults use marijuana to help with chronic pain, an ailment that becomes more common with age. Others use it to treat other problems.
John, a surgeon, had been helping people with chronic pain for decades when he broke his own hip.
After two surgeries in 2011, he found himself with a six-month prescription for Vicodin.
However, chronic pain still set in.
“I used to cross country ski and hike,” the 76-year-old medical professional told Healthline. “I can’t do that anymore.”
But marijuana helps with the pain, which John still lives with six years later.
On a trip to Arizona, he found a candy that contained substances found in marijuana, which had been legalized by the state.
“I don’t drink alcohol, smoke, or take nonprescription drugs. And I don’t like to feel out of control. I don’t take this when dealing with patients,” he said, “but it’s OK for the weekend.”
The portion of seniors in the United States like John who use marijuana is still small, but it’s growing quickly.
According to data gathered from the latest survey done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people age 65 and up who said they use marijuana grew 250 percent between 2006 and 2013.
No one knows how many use marijuana recreationally, or how many people are seeking relief from health-related symptoms. But some statistics provide clues:
People in pain are looking for options because prescription painkillers often don’t work.
Even when drugs are combined, they provide only 50 percent relief for only 30-40 percent of patients, reported Mary Lynch, a pain specialist at Dalhousie University in Canada.
Marijuana helps some of her patients, she told Healthline.
For many, marijuana is an add-on. Up to 39 percent of people with an opioid painkiller prescription for long-term use also use some form of marijuana.
Among people older than 65 who signed up for the Colorado medical marijuana program, nearly 90 percent listed pain as a problem, according to a research paper by public health researchers at the University of Iowa.
However, marijuana can weaken balance and slow reaction time, noted Dr. Lynn Webster, past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
“I’m worried about falls,” he told Healthline. “I wish we had the science to understand who [marijuana] would help, and in what doses, and for whom it would be toxic.”
“We really know very little about the effects of marijuana in the elderly. Everything about medical marijuana needs better study, but especially this topic,” Dr. Daniel Clauw, a pain specialist at the University of Michigan, told Healthline.
Reba Goodman resisted marijuana for months.
That was despite excruciating chronic pain in her leg that painkillers didn’t relieve.
Goodman is a scientist. After she earned her medical degree, she went on to research developmental genetics and run her own lab.