Today’s seniors have had a mixed history with cannabis. The herb enjoyed huge popularity in the 1960s as a staple of counter-culture both sides of the Atlantic, but in the decades that followed, attitudes toward the plant drifted dramatically in the other direction. The media churned out story after story about the mental health risks of marijuana consumption, and the “lazy stoner” stereotype seemed to fill the rest of the conversation about pot.
Research progressed for years at a snail’s pace, and it was only in the 1990s that cannabis started to garner mainstream legitimacy as a medicine with San Francisco’s Proposition P and later the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 which legalized medical cannabis throughout California. But fast-forward to 2018, and perceptions of the plant have changed further still. The therapeutic qualities of the key cannabinoids in cannabis are now known, and there is a swathe of interest surrounding cannabidiol (CBD) products. These are made using extracts from CBD-rich cannabis or hemp and are essentially non-psychoactive. This is a perfect middle-ground, where many cannabis benefits are on offer for the user, without them having to experience short-term euphoria and altered consciousness. In a nutshell, for the older generation, CBD is cannabis sans the stigma.
But what benefits does CBD have for seniors, and which products are likely to be of most help? That’s what we’re going to cover in this article.
People of all ages suffer from arthritis, but the disorder affects the elderly more than most. The two most common types of arthritis, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, are quite different, but there are preliminary signs that CBD may help with both.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which causes pain, stiffness and swelling as the immune system attacks the joints. Research shows that endocannabinoids are effective immunomodulators, regulating inflammation via CB2 receptor pathways. Using CBD creams on joints affected by arthritis helps to increase endocannabinoid concentrations, which may in turn reduce inflammation and pain.
In 2014, a study on rodents highlighted the endocannabinoid system as a target area for treating osteoarthritic pain. The research noted that cannabinoid receptors are distributed ubiquitously throughout the body, and that the endocannabinoid system regulates pain, inflammation and joint function. The logical next step is for a clinical study trialling cannabinoid therapy for patients with osteoarthritis.
While the battle against aging will always eventually be a losing one, steps can be taken to limit the progression of wrinkles, deep lines and crow’s feet around the eyes which add years to appearance. As a potent antioxidant, CBD topicals are an effective way of managing extrinsic aging, which is accelerated by exposure to free radicals, uncharged molecules that damage skin DNA. CBD and other cannabinoids act as a protective layer for the skin, neutralizing the free radicals which come from pollutants, ultraviolet (UV) rays and smoke. Hence, stopping smoking may also help to slow the onset of aging.
Keeping neurodegenerative diseases at bay
The symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s (AD) are devastating for both the patient and the family. Short and long-term memory loss, along with mood and behavioral changes as well as general cognitive decline significantly affect a person’s ability to function and enjoy a good quality of life. At present, there is no cure for AD, but cannabinoid research and studies on the hippocampus, an organ in the brain’s temporal lobe responsible for emotion and memory, is incredibly promising.
In 2012, a study featured in Future Medicine confirmed that hippocampal atrophy, in addition to other volume loss in medial temporal lobe structures, is “the best validated marker of AD. Three years later, researchers found that the endocannabinoid system – and specifically the cannabinoids CBD and cannabichromene (CBC) – has a central role in facilitating hippocampal neurogenesis in adult rats.
Furthermore, since the early 2000s, the US federal government has held a patent on cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidants.
Loneliness among seniors often goes ignored, as it is literally a silent problem. However, it is estimated that isolation impacts more than eight million Americans over the age of 50. With isolation can come cognitive impairment and depression, due to a lack of social interaction.
While CBD won’t magic up new friends, it may be effective in treating chemical imbalance which causes low mood in many depressed patients. The cannabinoid slows degradation of anandamide, an endogenous antidepressant, and may also positively influence the serotonin system – CBD is a partial agonist of the 5HT1-A receptor, a target of both SSRI and MAOI antidepressant drugs.
Vaping CBD with CBD vape oil and e-liquid or taking CBD oil sublingually will provide the quickest improvements to low mood. Effects of capsules and edibles are likely to be more gradual. For sustained benefits, daily consumption is preferable to one-off doses.
More than 50 million Americans are affected by osteoporosis, a condition that causes the bones to weaken over time, as the body is unable to replace bone tissue as quickly as it removes it. Around half of women and a quarter of men, aged 50 and over, suffer from at least one bone fracture due to osteoporosis. There is no cure for the condition.
However, a study on mice revealed that cannabinoid receptors influence bone remodelling, leading to suggestions that medical cannabis could be a novel treatment for osteoporosis. Moreover, research on rats found that CBD could help to heal fractures.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among the elderly and is often the result of high blood pressure or stress. JCI Insight published a study in 2017 showing that blood pressure could be reduced with a single dose of CBD. The volunteers were given a 600mg dose, in randomized, placebo-controlled and double-blind conditions.
Research has long shown that CBD reduces plasma cortisol levels. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism took cortisol levels from more than 800 participants aged 65 and over, following them over a six-year period. The participants were split into three equal groups, and those with the highest cortisol levels were five times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those with the lowest levels.
As we get older, aches and pains become more prominent due to a range of physical health issues. However, not all seniors are comfortable taking the strong opioid-based painkillers on prescription, either because of the risk of addiction or unpleasant side effects. That the elderly is the fastest-growing demographic of new cannabis users in the US should not be a huge surprise.
Pain is either acute or chronic, and CBD may help with both. Neuropathic pain is typically sharp or sudden and is best remedied by vaping CBD. Chronic pain patients may find edibles (e.g. CBD gummy bears) and capsules more efficient, as the dose doesn’t need to be topped up so often. Researchers are still exploring the mechanisms that cannabinoids work in to reduce pain, but CBD’s benefits look to come from indirectly activating the CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system, and the vanilloid receptor, which mediates sensitivity to pain and heat.
Please note that the contents of this article are meant for informational and educational purposes, and not as an alternative for medical advice. Bear in mind that cannabinoid research is cutting-edge science, and that there is still an absence of clinical evidence on the uses of various cannabis compounds. That said, CBD is neither intoxicating nor addictive, and many are already experimenting with products currently available and enjoying great benefits.