Seniors who live with chronic pain, sleep problems, pain related to nerve damage (neuropathy), or anxiety felt better after incorporating medical marijuana into their treatment, according to a new review that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meeting in May. 

Even more impressive, according to the abstract (which was released in advance of the AAN event): 32 percent of them were able to decrease the amount of opioid pain medication that they used. 

Although this study is considered preliminary as it hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, the results add to a growing body of evidence that marijuana contains active ingredients (CBD and THC) that provide benefits for patients with a wide variety of medical conditions. While some of marijuana’s purported uses are mostly based on anecdotal reports, pain relief has been fairly well studied in people with painful chronic conditions.

This new study suggests that the drug is also safe and effective in an older population (average age 81). Participants were enrolled in New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program and took marijuana via liquid extract, tincture, capsule, or vaporizer. After about four months, 69 percent said that at least some of their symptoms had improved. 

Side effects were also somewhat common but generally not serious. The most frequently reported complaints were sleepiness (13 percent), balance problems (7 percent), and gastrointestinal upset (7 percent) — most of which were relatively minor, especially compared to the side effects associated with opioids (such as vomiting, slow breathing, and the possibility of addiction). 

“Our findings show that medical marijuana is well-tolerated in people age 75 and older and may improve symptoms like chronic pain and anxiety,” study author Laszlo Mechtler, MD, of Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, New York, told AAN. “Future research should focus on symptoms like sleepiness and balance problems, as well as efficacy and optimal dosing.”

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