Rising Use of Medical Marijuana Among Seniors


July 31, 2023

The Rise in Medical Marijuana Use Among Seniors

In recent years, we have witnessed a profound shift in the perception and usage of medical marijuana across the United States. As legislation has become more accommodating, the application of cannabis in healthcare has extended beyond youthful enthusiasts, reaching into the often under-discussed demographic: the senior population. In Ohio, this change is particularly palpable, with a notable surge in usage among older adults making the rise of the green revolution among the elderly unmistakable, as they leap into the vanguard of this fresh medical frontier.

The Rising Acceptance & Benefits of Medical Cannabis 

Before we can fully comprehend the rise in medical marijuana use among Ohio’s senior population, we need to understand what medical marijuana is and the journey it has undergone to attain legal status in Ohio.

Medical Marijuana: A Primer

Medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, refers to the use of the Cannabis sativa plant, or its extracts, to treat symptoms of illness or other health conditions. While the plant comprises over 100 chemical compounds, two stand out for their therapeutic value: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which induces the ‘high’ associated with recreational use, and cannabidiol (CBD), devoid of psychoactive effects but hailed for its potential medicinal benefits. Medical marijuana is now used to manage a variety of health issues, including chronic pain, nausea, and neurological conditions, amongst others.

The Legalization Journey in Ohio

The path to legalization in Ohio has been a winding one. Up until 2016, marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, was illegal. It was in June 2016, that Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 523, legalizing medical marijuana. This law made it possible for doctors to recommend (but not prescribe) medical marijuana for a specific set of medical conditions, from cancer and chronic pain to Alzheimer’s disease. However, it wasn’t until September 2018 that the program was fully operational and dispensaries began selling medicinal cannabis. The decision to legalize was driven by a multitude of factors, chief among them being the potential health benefits for patients and an increasing wave of acceptance towards marijuana use.

Increase in Medical Marijuana Use Among Seniors

Over the past few years, Ohio has seen a dramatic increase in the usage of medical marijuana, particularly among its senior population. According to the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, as of January 2023, there are more than 30,000 patients over 60 years of age registered in Ohio’s medical marijuana program. When compared with figures from 2019, where this demographic accounted for a mere 19% of all patients, this demonstrates a significant upward trend.

So, why are seniors in Ohio increasingly turning towards medical marijuana? The answer lies in a combination of factors.

Growing Acceptance of Marijuana

The ongoing nationwide shift towards the acceptance of marijuana plays a significant role. As more states decriminalize or legalize cannabis use, public perception is changing. Many seniors, once wary due to marijuana’s previously illicit status, are now more open to exploring its medicinal properties.

Increase in Chronic Conditions with Age

It’s no secret that the risk for certain health conditions increases with age. Chronic pain, sleep disorders, loss of appetite — many of these common ailments among the elderly can be mitigated with the judicious use of medical marijuana. This offers an appealing alternative or supplement to traditional pharmaceuticals, which may have undesirable side effects.

Ease of Access Due to Legalization

With the legalization and regulation of medical marijuana in Ohio, obtaining it is no longer a daunting task. The well-structured medical marijuana program, complete with certified physicians and licensed dispensaries, has made access to this unconventional treatment method less intimidating and more feasible for seniors.

Benefits and Risks of Medical Marijuana for Seniors

Given the growing interest in medical marijuana among Ohio’s senior population, it’s important to examine its potential benefits and risks in this age group.

Health Benefits of Medical Cannabis

The benefits of medical marijuana span a broad spectrum of health conditions, many of which are prevalent among seniors. Chronic pain, often resulting from conditions like arthritis or nerve damage, is reported to be effectively managed with medical marijuana. Furthermore, medical marijuana is known to improve sleep quality, an issue often encountered by seniors. Finally, for conditions like cancer or HIV/AIDS, where loss of appetite is common, medical marijuana can stimulate hunger and help maintain body weight.

Medical Marijuana Risks and Side Effects for Seniors

However, like all medicinal substances, medical marijuana is not without its potential drawbacks. While not typically as severe as those from some prescription medications, side effects can include dizziness, fatigue, and confusion, which could be particularly problematic for seniors. There’s also the risk of drug interactions. As many older adults are often on multiple medications, adding medical marijuana to the mix could lead to unexpected reactions.

While dependency is less common with medical marijuana than with opioids, it remains a possibility, especially with prolonged use. Additionally, while rare, some people may experience paradoxical effects such as increased anxiety or paranoia.

Considering these pros and cons, it is crucial for any senior considering medical marijuana use to consult with a healthcare provider who understands their unique health profile.

Policies and Procedures

As the use of medical marijuana among Ohio’s seniors increases, it’s vital to understand how to navigate the system and obtain it legally. Eligibility for medical marijuana in Ohio is based on a list of qualifying medical conditions, which include Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, and more.

First, a patient must consult with a state-certified physician who can confirm their condition qualifies. Unlike traditional prescriptions, doctors don’t prescribe medical marijuana; instead, they provide a recommendation that allows patients to purchase it from licensed dispensaries.

Once a recommendation is given, the patient or their caregiver can apply for a registry card through the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy. This card, along with a valid ID, is required to purchase medical marijuana from any of Ohio’s dispensaries. It’s worth noting that, unlike some states, Ohio does not permit home cultivation of marijuana.

Future Implications

As more seniors turn to medical marijuana for health management, we can expect the trend to continue its upward trajectory. This pattern is likely to prompt further scientific research into the benefits and risks of cannabis use among the elderly, potentially leading to new treatment approaches and guidelines.

However, it is also necessary to consider the broader public health implications. Increased usage among seniors could bring about changes in healthcare policy, potentially influencing insurance coverage decisions and driving discussions around medical training for healthcare professionals in the field of cannabis.

Looking ahead, it’s crucial for policymakers, medical professionals, and society at large to consider the needs and perspectives of seniors in the evolving discourse on medical marijuana. A nuanced understanding of their experiences could inform policy and practice, ensuring that medical marijuana continues to be a safe and effective treatment option for Ohio’s elderly population.

There Has Never Been a Better Time Than Now

The rise of medical marijuana usage among Ohio’s senior population is a multi-faceted issue, steeped in the changing social perception, potential health benefits, and the state’s regulations. As this trend continues to grow, it’s clear that understanding the dynamics of this demographic shift is key to fostering a healthcare environment that best serves Ohio’s elderly population. Whether you’re a senior considering medical marijuana or a healthcare provider navigating this evolving landscape, the journey of medical marijuana in Ohio is an essential narrative to grasp and a compelling story of our times.

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