The elderly in America are finally becoming educated about and given access to a natural alternative to chemical pharmaceuticals.
An elderly woman vaporizes weed, in lieu of smoking [Credit: Altmet.org]
In the 1960s, many hippies did not believe they would be ever reach the age of sixty and/or have the health issues that many seniors have. Today, when they have reached that age, elderly folks may come to the realization that some drugs they used for recreation can now be used for medication. Cannabis tops that list.
As our physical bodies age, symptoms appear that were not present in our youth. Some are the result of hard living; some arise due to the genetic clocks that tick within. Most are simply due to using our bodies over time – our bodies are complex machines, and as mechanical machines they wear out with use.
Genetics influence the human body in two ways. Our individual genetic programs are pre-programmed for health events to occur at certain times in our lives. Our parents or grandparents likely had similar events. There is also the degradation of our genetic material as humans age. This occurs because, as our cells multiply, our genes are copied from cell to cell. The same as copying a tape, quality degrades when more copies are made.
Arthritis is one of the most common symptoms of growing old. The tissues of our joints become worn and deteriorate through use and the poor gene copies mentioned earlier. Fluids of the body tend to dry up. Prior joint injury creates inflexible scar tissue. The result is pain, muscle spasms and inflammation. Western medicine provides pharmaceuticals for pain, another for muscle spasms and a third for inflammation. However, Cannabis is a natural medicine that remedies all three.
Another method of self-medicating with Cannabis is to use tinctures [Credit: Drugpolicy.org]
Cannabis was used as a pain medication as early as the 1700s in the United States, before the development of chemical drugs. In cases where Cannabis is not sufficient alone, it can moderate the use of the other pain medicines. For example, elderly patients who once used opiates alone for their pain had to regularly increase the amount of the opiates that they took, resulting in increased tolerance and dependence. When Cannabis was introduced as an adjunct therapy, these patients were able to significantly reduce the amount of opiates they took, in some cases completely eliminating them. Some said their pain was better relieved by Cannabis alone, without the side-effects of drowsiness and constipation associated with frequent opiate use.
Cannabis is thought to have its beneficial effects on pain and inflammation due to the endocannabinoid system within the body. The endocannabinoid system does not produce the same side-effects as the opiate system. Opiates also have naturally occurring receptor sites, but because of their location, opiates produce undesirable side-effects.
The CB1 receptor site is associated with pain relief without the side-effects of opiates. CB1 sites are mainly located in the brain and are responsible for the relief of pain and the other psychological effects of Cannabis (anxiolytic, anti-depressant). Anxiety and depression are other symptoms that can develop in the elderly. The loss of past physical and mental abilities and the loss of life-long friends and acquaintances can take a toll on a person's psychological state of mind.
The older generations are modifying their views on Cannabis use, once presented with accurate medical information [Credit: Substance.com]
Animal studies have shown that the CB1 receptor site has the potential to decrease the toxicity in brain cells that lead to dementia and Alzheimer's. Mice that were bred without the endocannabinoid site for CB1 in the brain had brains that aged faster. “If we switch off the receptor using gene technology, mouse brains age much faster,” said Önder Albayram, a doctoral student at the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn, Germany, and principal author of the study. “This means that the CB1 signal system has a protective effect for nerve cells.”
Cannabis also has anti-inflammatory effects that are moderated and reduced by the CB2 receptor sites. Research is still underway but it is thought there is a receptor site on the mast cells for CB2 that allows it to mediate and reduce inflammation. Mast cells release histamine, a major inflammatory substance. Inflammation increases the aging process.
In addition to reducing inflammation, CB2 receptor sites exhibit other anti-aging properties by moderating an overactive immune system. Many diseases of the elderly are due to an out-of-control immune system that attacks the body's own cells. Immunosenescence is the medical term for the decrease in competence of the immune system in the elderly. These changes imply a reduced level of immunosurveillance (the process by which immune cells search for and identify foreign pathogens) against cancer onset and the occurrence of autoimmune phenomena. Some skin diseases, as well as cancer, can develop. The influence of CB2 on the immune system moderates and reduces these phenomena.
Many elderly patients suffer from poor appetite. This can result in malnutrition and cachexia. Cannabis is known to stimulate the appetite and many seniors report that it enhances the taste of food. When lack of appetite is associated with nausea, as from chemotherapy treatments for cancer, Cannabis is known to reduce the nausea. The prevalence of 'medibles' in the marketplace has helped, as many elderly patients have retained their 'sweet tooth'. Medicated candies and cupcakes, sodas and even ice cream are now available for seniors to consume to relieve their pain. Alternately, medicated butters and oils can be used in recipes to cook wholesome foods and meals, thereby avoiding the aforementioned sugary snacks and treats – essential for diabetics and others who must monitor their sugar intake.
The number of people aged fifty and older reporting weed use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The rise was most dramatic among those aged fifty-five to fifty-nine, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent today.
“For the longest time, our political opponents were older Americans who were not familiar with marijuana and had lived through the Reefer Madness mentality and they considered marijuana a very dangerous drug,” said Keith Stroup, the founder of and lawyer for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a famous advocacy group in the United States.
“When you think about people who are fifty and older you don't generally think of them as using illicit drugs,” he said. “As a nation, it's important to us to say, 'It's not just young people using drugs, it's older people using drugs.'”
For more information, check out the Cannabis advocacy for seniors provided by The Silver Tour in Florida at http://thesilvertour.org/.