Grannies and Gramps like to smoke pot too.
The fastest-growing population of marijuana users in America is the elderly. Marijuana helps with some of the typical problems of aging like no other drug, and it does so safely and with fewer unwanted side effects than most pharmaceutical drugs on the market today.
Arthritis and degenerative disc disease are very common in the elderly, and marijuana helps with the chronic pain associated with these and other conditions. In fact, chronic pain is the most common reason that physicians recommend marijuana in the states where it is allowed. Marijuana relieves pain without over sedation. Marijuana allows pain patients to use fewer narcotics and fewer nonprescription, or over-the-counter, pain medications.
Researchers note a 25 percent reduction in opiate overdose deaths in states that have medical marijuana laws.
Nor are OTC drugs safe, even though these drugs are available in unlimited quantities in pharmacies, supermarkets and mini-marts all over America, even to minors. According to the Mayo Clinic, acetaminophen, a common OTC analgesic or pain reliever that is found in Tylenol and many other preparations, is the leading cause of liver failure in the United States.
Marijuana doesn’t only relieve pain. It typically raises the spirits of users by producing a temporary, self-limiting sense of euphoria, or a “high.”
This side effect is especially desirable among the elderly to counteract some of the anxiety-producing and depressing effects of aging: the loss of physical and mental powers and the sight of lifelong friends and acquaintances suffering and dying.
Marijuana is far safer than anti-depressant medications, tranquilizers and alcohol — alternatives the elderly otherwise seek out to deal with these issues. Marijuana is also an appetite stimulant — it causes “the munchies.” This can help an aging population to maintain an appropriate weight and fight off cachexia, or the wasting syndrome. The frail elderly can be turned into a more robust elderly with marijuana therapy.
Marijuana has even been shown to help bedridden patients with incontinence — it improves bladder control. The difference between lying in wet sheets or dry sheets is enormous in terms of comfort and maintenance of skin integrity.
It is no wonder than many elderly are turning to marijuana therapy.
It is true, however, that some elderly are not comfortable with the psychotropic or euphoric effects of marijuana. They are not used to the high, and they find it disorienting. For these people, a type — or strain — of marijuana that has lower THC would be appropriate. THC is the specific component, or cannabinoid, in marijuana that produces the high. But marijuana contains over 60 cannabinoids, so a strain of marijuana that produces less euphoria and more of the other therapeutic qualities would be appropriate for these people.
Medical marijuana dispensaries, in states that permit its use, are eager to explain the different therapeutic qualities of the many strains of marijuana.
Unfortunately, the New Jersey Department of Health does no outreach at all to the elderly — or any other population — in the state to explain the kinds of medical benefits that can be derived from marijuana therapy. The department never mentions the Medicinal Marijuana Program in its monthly bulletins. Even basic information about the program is difficult to find on the department’s website. This is really not surprising, as Gov. Chris Christie has said that all such programs are just a “front for legalization.”
While the Health Department actively impedes the implementation of the Medicinal Marijuana Program through overly restrictive regulations, the attorney general in New Jersey insists that marijuana must continue to be considered a Schedule I drug with “no accepted medical uses in the U.S.”
Even in New Jersey’s restrictive program, anyone with a diagnosis of less than one year to live automatically qualifies for marijuana therapy. Yet few patients, or patients’ families, know this.
Compare this to the marketing that the pharmaceutical industry does to promote its FDA-approved drugs that, in many cases, just poison the elderly.
The Coalition for Medical Marijuana — New Jersey is the only statewide organization that has been providing education about the benefits of safe and legal access to medical marijuana. We have been doing so for over 10 years. For more information, join the CMMNJ email list for monthly updates by going to www.cmmnj.org.
Ken Wolski, R.N., MPA, is executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana — New Jersey Inc.
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