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Medical Cannabis Significantly Safer for Elderly than Opioids in Reducing Chronic Pain

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Medical cannabis therapy can significantly reduce chronic pain in patients age 65 and older without adverse effects, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Cannabis Clinical Research Institute at Soroka University Medical Center.

The new study, published in The European Journal of Internal Medicine, found cannabis therapy is safe and effective for elderly patients who are seeking to address cancer symptoms, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other medical issues.  

‘While older patients represent a large and growing population of medical cannabis users, few studies have addressed how it affects this particular group, which also suffers from dementia, frequent falls, mobility problems, and hearing and visual impairments,’ says Professor Victor Novack, M.D., a professor of medicine in the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences (FOHS), and head of the Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute. Novack is also the BGU Gussie Krupp Chair in Internal Medicine.

‘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.’

This older population represents a growing segment of medical cannabis users, ranging from approximately 7% to more than 33%, depending on the country. Recent US polls indicate Americans over 65 represent 14% of the total population and use more than 30 percent of all prescription drugs, including highly addictive painkillers.

BGU researchers surveyed 2,736 patients 65 years and older who received medical cannabis through Tikun Olam, the largest Israeli medical cannabis supplier. More than 60% were prescribed medical cannabis due to the pain, particularly pain associated with cancer. After six months of treatment, more than 93% of 901 respondents reported their pain dropped from a median of 8 to 4 on a 10-point scale. Close to 60% of patients who originally reported ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ quality of life upgraded to ‘good’ or ‘very good’ after six months. More than 70% of patients surveyed reported moderate to significant improvement in their condition.

The most commonly reported adverse effects were dizziness (9.7%) and dry mouth (7.1%). After six months, more than 18% of patients surveyed had stopped using opioid analgesics or had reduced their dosage.

All patients received a prescription after consulting with a doctor who prescribed treatment. More than 33% of patients used cannabis-infused oil; approximately 24% inhaled therapy by smoking, and approximately 6% used vaporisation.

While the researchers state their findings to date indicate cannabis may decrease dependence on prescription medicines, including opioids, more evidence-based data from this special, ageing population is imperative.

As you explore and consider the medical use of cannabis for chronic pain, make it a point to also learn about how long cannabis stays in the system. The answer depends on various factors, including the metabolisation process and excretion, so it’s important to really research.

The researchers in the study also include, Ran Abuhasira, a BGU PhD candidate working in the Soroka Clinical Research Center; Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider of Tikun Olam, and Professor Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University. Professor Novak is an adviser to the dean for Clinical Research in the FOHS at BGU. He is also the head of the Clinical Research Center and Research Authority at Soroka. *** Image credit: Freepik

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