As a medical treatment, more and more older adults are turning to marijuana according to a recent survey.

A study by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, published in October 2020 by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that adults age 65 and older use cannabis primarily for medical purposes to treat common health conditions.

This includes pain, sleep issues and psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression.

For participants who reported cannabis use, three-quarters found it to be “somewhat” or “extremely” helpful in managing these conditions.

“For the most part, patients reported that cannabis was helping to address these issues, especially with insomnia and pain,” said Christopher Kaufmann, PhD, co-first author of the study. Kaufmann is also assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego.

Of 568 patients surveyed, 15 percent of them had used cannabis within the past three years, and half of the users reporting using it regularly and mostly for medical purposes. The study also discovered that 61 percent of the patients who used cannabis had initiated use after age 60.

“New users were more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons than for recreation,” said Kevin Yang, co-first author and third-year medical student at UC San Diego.

Ninety-four percent of respondents said family members were aware of their cannabis use, and about half reported their friends knew.

“Also, they were more likely to inform their doctor about their cannabis use, which reflects that cannabis use is no longer as stigmatized as it was previously,” Yang added.

“The findings demonstrate the need for the clinical workforce to become aware of cannabis use by seniors and to gain awareness of both the benefits and risks of cannabis use in their patient population,” said Dr. Alison Moore, senior author and chief of the Division of Geriatrics in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“Given the prevalence of use, it may be important to incorporate evidence-backed information about cannabis use into medical school and use screening questions about cannabis as a regular part of clinic visits.”

“There seems to be potential with cannabis, but we need more evidence-based research,” said Kaufmann. “We want to find out how cannabis compares to current medications available. Could cannabis be a safer alternative to treatments, such as opioids and benzodiazepines? Could cannabis help reduce the simultaneous use of multiple medications in older persons? We want to find out which conditions cannabis is most effective in treating. Only then can we better counsel older adults on cannabis use.”

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