Study Shows Medical Marijuana is Safer for Elderly than Opiates

Elderly person smoking marijuana

Senior citizens use nearly 1/3 of all prescription drugs used in the United States. With the opioid crisis in America now considered a National Emergency, many are switching to medical marijuana instead of using dangerous prescription drugs. Now a study published in The European Journal of Internal Medicine says that cannabis therapy is effective and safer for older patients with serious illnesses. The study was conducted by the scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

Researchers found that cannabis was significantly safer and more efficient than prescription opiates for elderly patients with disease or conditions including:

The study concluded that nearly 1/5th of patients had decreased or ceased taking their opioid prescriptions after 6 months of treatment with cannabis.

Renewed Research Efforts in Senior Cannabis Medicines

Faculty of Health Sciences professor of medicine at Ben-Gurion University Victor Novack, M.D., says that older patients are rarely studied in connection with cannabis treatment. “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,” said Novack.

The most common side effects reported were dry mouth and dizziness.

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University also found that of patients over 65 receiving medical marijuana from Israeli cannabis distributor Tikun Olam, 60 percent were suffering from chronic pain due to cancer. Nearly all patients reported that their pain decreased by at least half after six months of cannabis treatment.

Prior to the study almost three out of five participants reported their quality of life as very bad or bad. After six months of cannabis therapy, the same patients reported they now felt good or very good. Furthermore, 70 percent of patients surveyed reported a moderate to significant increase in their quality of life.

Scientists Are Also Studying Cannabis for Autism

Researchers in Israel are also studying cannabis to treat autism, according to Newsweek. Clinical trials are being conducted by Dr. Adi Aran and the Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center. The trial will study 120 kids and young adults with autism.

The study is the first of its kind.

Dr. Aran is the Director of Pediatric Neurology at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek hospital. Dr. Aran first discovered that marijuana could help pediatric autism from parents who had treated their children with cannabis for epilepsy.  In 2015, Dr. Aran began an unofficial study of medical marijuana for severe pediatric autism.

Aran began to treat a few epilepsy patients with a 20-to-1 ratio of CBD to THC strain of cannabis. Almost one-third of children with autism also have epilepsy. The doctor said while his epileptic patients had decreased seizures, the patients who also had autism had improvement with communication, socializing and repetitive behaviors.

Dr. Aran had first tried CBD as a last resort on violent autistic patients who had no success with other treatments. In each case the parents were desperate. Almost 50 percent of children studied had a significant decrease in autism symptoms, with one-third communicating verbally for the first time.

Scientists believe that the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) indirectly interacts with the brain's natural cannabinoid receptors without altering brain function. People with epilepsy don't have enough inhibition which causes seizures.

CBD works to calm nerves and decrease anxiety in epilepsy and autism patients by balancing the brain's excitation and inhibition.

Doctors also say that cannabidiol does not pose a risk to brain development because there is little to no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) involved. Aran says that hopes that the laws and stigma against cannabis in the U.S. change quickly so that more children can be helped with cannabidiol.

Aran's study has prompted studies in the U.S. currently underway for cannabidivarin (CBDV), which is a cannabinoid derived from cannabis similar to CBD. The study is being conducted by the director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, Dr. Eric Hollander. The study will take three years to complete.

Results of Aran's current study are expected sometime this year.