Americans 60 years and older are the fastest growing cannabis user demographic. Most popular reasons sited: managing pain, reducing anxiety and lifting depression.
The University of Colorado set task to understand how older Americans perceive and use medical cannabis. They conducted 17 focus groups across Colorado of people over the age 60 and they discovered seniors in growing numbers using cannabis to manage pain, reduce anxiety and lifting depression. Also noted in that study were the challenges that seniors face.
Doctor Approval Access
Even though cannabis is becoming more readily available in legal states, the biggest challenge for seniors was actually the difficulty in accessing it with practitioner approval. Older patients are often burdened with the stigmas formed in their youth associated around the plant, making it difficult to openly discuss with their health care professionals.
There was also mixed turnout if they managed to build up the gusto to ask about it, finding that their doctor wouldn't provide them with information about cannabis in general or simply was not knowledgeable enough to form a patient care plan that includes medical cannabis.
It's Important to Discuss
Changes in metabolism, the presence of comorbidities, and the use of medications can alter cannabis effects in older adults which makes these conversations absolutely necessary with your doctor. The lack of communication has turned many seniors away from a formal talk with their doctors and brought them directly to the recreational market, often finding what helps them through trial and error in self medicating.
A larger study from our neighbors in the North ( Canada ) where cannabis is Federally legal, showed the same trend. New cannabis use is more pronounced among seniors. In 2017 ( pre legalization) senior use was 17.6% and had grown to 31.02% by the end of 2019 ( the year it was made Federally legal).
This study also reported the number one reason for use was to relieve pain. It had a broader scope and also sited that the majority of participants preferred CBD (Cannabidiol) than higher THC formulations. Many participants noted they were on other age related medications, but notably 40% of participants also highlighted they had mildly or significantly reduced their use of their opioid medications. Other benefits were stated as improved mood and better sleep patterns.
Talking to your Doctor
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system has been described as the “Single most important scientific medical discovery since the recognition of sterile surgical technique. As our knowledge expands, we are coming to realize that the ECS is a master control system of virtually all physiology” – Dr. B Allen MD.
The above author did a survey “Low Acceptance of the Science of the ECS at American Medical Schools.” While we will not go into full details, we do encourage the read. It will help to close the logical loop as to why you most likely have never heard your doctor mention the ECS, let alone how specifically hemp supports it. To summarize the survey study, medical schools across America were contacted to gage the level of curriculum provided with regards to the ECS. Answers submitted from the medical schools ranged from "what is an endocannabinoid ” to more hopefully responses like, “Yes, we touch upon it in some of our biochemistry courses. The benefit of being at a small school is our ability to conduct more specialized research”
You can find the entire survey HERE
Surveys like this shed light to the challenge’s individuals can encounter when attempting to engage with health care professionals about using hemp and/or medical cannabis. Whether you are just looking to keep your body in optimal health, or you are targeting a specific illness, you may be speaking to or wanting to talk to your doctor about taking hemp.
Here are some tips in engaging with your health care provider to make the most of the conversation.
Be Committed to the Idea: Depending on where you fall on the US map, your doctors knowledge and acceptance of cannabis being a positive solution to your health challenges can range from “it’s the devils lettuce” to “I have many patients that use this and I support it in this way…….” Being committed to the idea means that you have accepted that there may be challenges, but you are committed to establishing your own advocacy. Your physician is supposed to be an extension of you managing your health, and you should be an active participant in your health.
Go in Fully Loaded: Now that you have established your self advocacy role and understand your physician's level of knowledge and acceptance of cannabis. Act on it! Raise topic with your doctor. “I would like to start taking CBD oil or cannabis for XYZ.” If you are seeking the cessation of a prescription, explain your concerns as to why you want to make a switch, be specific, provide research that matches the desired result. ie. “I want to replace my pain prescription I do not like what it is doing to my body, these studies have shown that for my condition the compounds in cannabis were effective in both managing pain and reducing the underlying cause…”
The goal of course is to establish what you want to achieve, show research to support it and present information that the doctor may not be aware of. The preparation is important. Doctors shuffle between patients, and if they are not already working with patients using cannabis, they may be quick to disregard the conversation if you do not engage with them in a structured and prepared way. When you are committed to the change and prepared for conversations, your health care management plan will reflect that.
No Reason to Hide: Being transparent about any condition you have, the effect it is having on your body, and changes you want to make is imperative. Not being open, breaks rule #1, be your own advocate. If you have been using cannabis and it has been working for you, time to speak up! If you are unhappy with prescriptions, constant adjustment of prescriptions, more prescriptions being added into your life and nothing seeming to impact your health in a forward motion, speak up! Refer to going in fully loaded and ask that your doctor review this alternative to get to the physical and mental state you want to achieve. Transparency is key to forging any good relationship, it is also how to know when to use the next tip…
Know When to Fold: When you commit to advocating for yourself, arm yourself with research and keep communication transparent, you still may find that your doctor is not supportive of your efforts. You may even find yourself in a situation where in conversation it becomes apparent that your doctor is 100% against engaging in a cannabis discussion with you.
This does not mean that you should toss in the towel or go off the medical grid. It just means that it may be necessary to align with forces that understand and support your successes with using cannabis and help you adjust your use as it is needed. Most of us can tell that something is working in how we feel. But some of us may require a doctor on board with us fully along our journey to monitor things like your blood work to ensure that your efforts are effective in the management of your health.
When conversations with your doctor have been less than desirable, all is not lost. Get back to research, find support like here with the Hemp Sisters and start to rebuild your support circle because you are your #1 advocate !
The Hemp Sisters- Lois Carter and Gina Epps