Medical marijuana may help older patients with pain, sleep disorders, and anxiety caused by conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, neuropathy, spinal cord damage, and multiple sclerosis, suggests a preliminary study published today and set to be presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia, May 4 to 7, 2019. One-third of participants reported a reduction in opioid use as a result of the study’s findings indicating medical marijuana may be safe and useful. However, since this study was retrospective and participants were asked to report any change in symptoms, it is likely that the placebo effect had a role. More studies with randomized, placebo-controlled designs are required.
The majority of those aged 65 and above have at least one chronic health problem, with 80% reporting this.
Laszlo Mechtler, MD, of the Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, New York, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, said, “With legalization in many states, medical marijuana has become a popular treatment option for people with chronic diseases and disorders, but there is limited research, particularly in older people.” Our findings are promising, and they may encourage more research into medical marijuana as a viable therapeutic option for this population of patients.
Average age of participants in this study of New York State Medical Marijuana Program participants was 81. For an average of four months while going through regular checkups, the subjects took different combinations of the two principal active components in medical marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Tokeable forms of the drug included liquid extract tinctures, tablet forms, and electronic vaporizers.
A preliminary survey found that 34% of participants had negative side effects from medical marijuana. When the dosage was reduced, only 21% of patients still had unwanted side effects. One-fourth of patients complained of feeling sleepy, 7% had trouble keeping their balance, and 7% had trouble digesting their food. Only 3% of patients remained taking medical marijuana after experiencing unwanted side effects. When analyzing the effects of THC and CBD, researchers found that the most common ratio was 1:1.
The majority of patients (69%) reported feeling better after receiving treatment. The majority (49%) of patients reported relief from pain, while 18% reported better sleep, 15% reported relief from neuropathy, and 10% reported relief from anxiety.
Opioid pain reliever doses were decreased in 32% of patients.
“Our findings show that medical marijuana is well-tolerated by persons aged 75 and above and that it may treat symptoms such as chronic pain and anxiety,” said Mechtler. Future research should include side effects such sleepiness and balance problems in addition to efficacy and optimal dosage.
The study was funded by the Dent Family Foundation.
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