Medical marijuana may help reduce the use of pharmaceutical drugs among the elderly, providing a safer alternative to drugs that often carry serious side effects, according to a study conducted by researchers from Tel Aviv University. The researchers also found that elderly participants who took medical marijuana achieved not just pain reduction, but also improvement in markers of physical, emotional and cognitive health.
The study was conducted on 19 residents of the Hadarim nursing home in Israel who were between the ages of 69 and 101 and suffered from medical conditions including pain, muscle spasm, tremors and lack of appetite. Participants used medical marijuana (cannabis) in the form of smoke, vapor, oil or powder three times per day. Over the course of a year, participants were monitored for physical improvement and for improvement in quality of life factors such as mood and facility with everyday activities.
Within one year of treatment, 17 of the 19 patients had achieved a healthy weight, with some of the participants experiencing weight gain and the others experiencing weight loss, as needed. Muscle spasms, stiffness, tremors, pain, nightmares, and flashbacks related to post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) were significantly reduced among participants, while sleeping hours were significantly increased. Participants also experienced a significant improvement in mood and in communication skills.
Use of pharmaceutical drugs reduced
Notably, participants also significantly reduced their use of pharmaceutical drugs such as antipsychotics, painkillers, mood stabilizers and drugs for Parkinson’s disease. After one year of medical marijuana treatment, 72 percent of study participants had reduced their use of pharmaceuticals by an average of 1.7 drugs per day. Researcher Zach Klein noted that this finding is of particular importance because so many of the drugs that patients were able to discontinue can carry severe side effects.
Marijuana is gaining increasing medical attention as a treatment for chronic conditions ranging from pain to cancer to PTSD. It is known to act as an effective pain reliever, appetite regulator and sleep aid even in cases that prove resistant to pharmaceuticals.
Another recent study, published in October in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, found that medical marijuana is effective at reducing debilitating muscle stiffness in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). This stiffness, which is highly resistant to current MS treatments, affects 90 percent of MS patients and regularly interferes with mobility, sleep and daily function.
Klein is currently working on another study, to test whether medical marijuana can be beneficial to people who suffer from dysphagia, or trouble swallowing. Dysphagia is a common concern in the critically ill, and can actually lead to starvation if not treated properly. Klein hopes that medical marijuana will prove beneficial in treating dysphagia because it has previously been shown to stimulate the part of the brain that is thought to regulate the swallowing reflex.
According to a 2012 poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, three of every four U.S. residents oppose federal prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries, growers, sellers and users in the states that have legalized medical marijuana.