Medical Cannabis Effective for Elderly Pain Patients

By Pat Anson, Editor

Medical marijuana can significantly reduce chronic pain in elderly patients without adverse effects, according to a new study by Israeli researchers that found many patients were also able stop or reduce their use of opioid medication.

Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) surveyed over 2,700 patients 65 years or older who received medical cannabis. Over 60 percent of the patients were prescribed cannabis for chronic pain due to cancer, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis or other medical issues.

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drug policy alliance image

After six months of treatment, more than 93 percent of respondents reported their pain dropped from a median of eight to four on a 10-point pain scale. Nearly 60 percent who originally reported "bad" or "very bad" quality of life said their lives had improved to "good" or "very good." And over 70 percent reported moderate to significant improvement in their medical condition.

About a third of the patients used cannabis-infused oil, about 24 percent smoked marijuana, and about six percent used a vaporizer. The most common side effects from cannabis use were dizziness and dry mouth, researchers reported in The European Journal of Internal Medicine .

"We found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported," said Victor Novack, MD, a professor of medicine at BGU and head of the Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute.

"While older patients represent a large and growing population of medical cannabis users, few studies have addressed how it affects this particular group, which also suffers from dementia, frequent falls, mobility problems, and hearing and visual impairments."

The survey found that nearly one in five patients stopped using opioid medication or reduced their dose. The findings are at odds with a recent study by the RAND Corporation, which found that medical marijuana laws in the U.S. have not reduced demand for prescription opioids.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since the early 1990s. Israel’s Ministry of Health still considers cannabis a “dangerous drug,” but adds “there is evidence that cannabis could help patients suffering from certain medical conditions and alleviate their suffering.”

A recent survey found about 27 percent of Israeli adults have used cannabis in the past year, one of the highest rates in the world.