Seniors Increasingly Open to Medical Marijuana Use

An overwhelming majority of older Americans support the use of marijuana as directed by a doctor — despite significant barriers to medically supervised cannabis in long-term care.

About 80% of adults aged 50 to 80 told a team from the University of Michigan and AARP that they either strongly or somewhat support doctor-overseen pot use, while 18% said they personally knew someone who has taken cannabis products for medical reasons.

“I’d say this is a tipping point for medical marijuana,” AARP senior vice president of research Alison Bryant said of the findings, according to an article on the senior advocacy group’s website. “As more of a person’s acquaintances use it, it becomes more normalized.”

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The majority also said they believed marijuana could help treat pain, appetite loss, and anxiety, AARP reported. However, 60% indicated that cannabis should not be used to treat medical conditions without a doctor’s okay, and only 14% said that marijuana is more effective than prescription drugs at relieving pain.

The researchers cautioned that pot is not a cure-all for those complications, and that the process of obtaining medical marijuana remains less than streamlined.

“We don’t know for sure if marijuana is more effective than prescription drugs,” University of Michigan professor Preeti Malani told AARP. “There are no standardized doses for medical marijuana. A doctor may give you permission for it, but the person advising you in a marijuana shop may not have the training to know which kind and which dosage is best for your needs.”

The role of cannabis in long-term care has come into sharper focus as highly populated states — including California, New York, and Massachusetts — have recently approved the recreational sale and use of the drug. In addition, multiple other states have medical programs in place, with varying levels of availability and approved health applications.

But marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, which creates a significant roadblock to widespread acceptance in the long-term care space.

For instance, operators risk problems with receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements if they dispense medical marijuana; at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in the Bronx, N.Y., residents must maintain personal possession of their cannabis at all times, storing the drugs in lockboxes to which only they have the keys.

“I think there’s a lot of validity to the use of medical cannabis for its indicated diagnoses,” Hebrew Home at Riverdale chief medical officer Zachary Palace told SNN earlier this year. “Any medication can be abused, and medical cannabis is clearly no different. But when it’s prescribed for its approved indication, it can be a very effective alternative.”

Stigmas about the use of marijuana also continue: Only 6% of survey respondents told researchers that they use medical marijuana, and half of that group were doing so under the supervision of a doctor — with more than half telling the University of Michigan that their doctors don’t know they use it.

The poll, sponsored by both AARP and Michigan Medicine, culled information from 2,007 people, and had a margin of error of plus or minus one to two percentage points.

Written by Alex Spanko

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