Baby Boomers are spending more on marijuana than any other group in the U.S., and for a simple reason: the growing recognition among seniors and their caregivers that cannabis is an effective and safe alternative medicine. And thanks to the work of a team of neurological researchers in New York, there’s new evidence to support that conclusion. Their preliminary study of more than 200 elderly (75+) pain patients found that medical cannabis both reduced pain symptoms and reduced patients use of opioid painkillers.
Study Suggests 1:1 THC to CBD Ratio is Most Effective for Treating Chronic Illness in Seniors
Senior researcher Dr. Laszlo Mechtler is the medical director of the Dent Neurological Institute in Amherst, N.Y. He is also the Chief of Neuro-Oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and teaches courses in neurology and neuro-oncology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Speaking with the Tribune, Mechtler summed up the encouraging results of the study. “A majority of patients came back and said, ‘I’m better,’” Mechtler said.
More specifically, half of the 204 medical cannabis patients the study tracked said their chronic pain diminished. 18 percent said they had better sleep. 15 percent noted improvement in symptoms of nerve pain. And 10 percent said cannabis reduced their anxiety. In sum, seven out of 10 patients reported experiencing some form of symptom relief. About 75 percent of the study’s participants had received a chronic pain diagnosis. The remaining 25 percent represented a range of chronic diseases, from cancer to epilepsy to Parkinson’s.
The study strictly tracked patients 75 years and older. And for senior patients, the psychoactive effects of THC can be undesirable or rarely, debilitating. And at first, more than a third of the study’s participants reported side effects, like sleepiness and coordination problems, from medical cannabis. However, after adjusting dosages for those patients, only 21 percent continued having issues. In the end, only three percent of the study’s participants stopped taking medical cannabis due to side effects.
To limit the impact of psychoactive side effects, researchers adjusted not just dose, but also cannabinoid concentrations. According to Dr. Mechtler, a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD was the ideal cannabinoid compliment. The matched ratio allowed the medicine to be effective and at the same time limit side effects. Participants also received medical cannabis in many forms, from edibles to tinctures, capsules and vapable oils.
Findings Support the Use of Medical Cannabis to Replace Opioid Painkillers
In addition to the study’s positive findings about medical cannabis and chronic pain and illness, researchers also observed a significant reduction in patients’ use of opioid painkillers. According to the preliminary findings, a third of participants were able to reduce their use of prescription opioids by replacing them with medical cannabis.
These encouraging results help to support the opioid-replacement policy recently adopted by New York’s medical marijuana program. In New York, any condition for which a physician can prescribe an opioid automatically qualifies for medical cannabis treatments.
For Mechtler, the importance of using cannabis as an opioid replacement cannot be overstated. “In the midst of an opioid epidemic in this country, with 115 people dying every day, anything that can decrease the potential for opiate use is a win/win situation,” Mechtler said.
“Nobody overdoses on medical marijuana,” Mechtler added.
As Ever, More Research is Needed
It’s worth noting that the study’s findings are only preliminary. As such, they have not been subject to peer-review. However, Mechtler and his team are preparing to present on their research at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology conference in Philadelphia.