Can medical cannabis help geriatric patients?

People aged 65 and over in the UK make up only 17% of the population, but use over 50% of the NHS budget, representing, as a group, more than one-third of all prescriptions for drugs

Recently at The Medical Cannabis Clinics, we’ve found that a substantial amount of people enquiring about medical cannabis fall into this geriatric age bracket. A large number of people in this group are cannabis naïve, having  never used it recreationally before, so there is much for them to learn about medical cannabis generally. However, increasing media interest and coverage on cannabis and its benefits means geriatric patients are gradually being exposed to information about this form of treatment, leading them to enquire about medical cannabis use for many valid reasons. 

One of the most serious medical issues affecting geriatric patients is Alzheimer’s disorder. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what the research says about how cannabis could help with the treatment of this disease and its debilitating comorbid psychiatric issues. 

Alzheimer’s Disease

According to the NHS, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, a syndrome related to an ongoing decline of brain functioning, in the UK. As Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive medical condition, the symptoms worsen with age, making it a more severe and debilitating condition for the geriatric age group, with the disease ‘affecting an estimated 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in every 6 people over the age of 80’

Some of the main symptoms of the disorder include: 

  • Memory issues – including general confusion and forgetting conversations, names, places and objects. 
  • Issues with language and speech. 
  • Experiencing hallucinations. 
  • Changes in personality (with people often becoming suspicious of others or becoming more aggressive).

In the search for treatments for this condition, terpenoids and cannabinoids found in cannabis seem promising due to their in vivo and in vitro biological activity and their anti-Alzheimer’s disorder therapeutic agents. 

Whilst, undeniably, there’s still a lack of human trials in this area due to issues preventing the research of cannabinoids because of their legal classification, preliminary studies seem to suggest that cannabinoids can reduce the formation of neurofibrillary tangles and plaques and can help to minimise oxidative stress. As these are some of the notable features of late onset Alzheimer’s disorder, this research is highly promising. 

Additionally, a preclinical in vitro study carried out in 2014 that analysed the “potential therapeutic effects of THC” on Alzheimer’s disease found that THC may play a role in delaying the progression of the disease. 

Aside from the well-known effects Alzheimer’s disease has on cognition and memory, it should also be noted that the disease also frequently elicits comorbid depression and anxiety issues too. At The Medical Cannabis Clinics, we support patients living with a range of psychiatric conditions and symptoms, including depression and anxiety

Mental Health Disorders and Chronic Pain 

Chronic pain and various other diseases experienced disproportionately by older patients may make them more likely to experience mental health disorders and anxiety issues as they struggle to cope with their progressing illnesses. Also, if the geriatric patient already has existing psychiatric issues prior to experiencing physical pain conditions, the worsening of such pain and disease may exacerbate their mental symptoms as they try to contend with their physical and mental health simultaneously. 

In respect to mental issues and the effectiveness of cannabis-based treatments, studies carried out in the area have shown that neurotransmitter systems, including dopamine and serotonin systems, can be modulated in part by cannabidiol (CBD). 

In addition, further studies have suggested that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may be useful for the treatment of a number of psychiatric conditions including depression, PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders, as this cannabinoid has an effect upon neurotransmitters involved in the regulation of mood and fear arousal. However, it should be noted that in this case, the published evidence is not particularly strong, with this research being reliant upon case reports and traditional use cases. 

It should also be noted that while CBD, THC and cannabis-based products may help with anxiety and other mental health disorders, some patients may experience anxiety as a side effect of cannabis use. However, this experience of anxiety may be due to some patients overmedicating using unregulated street cannabis rather than seeking proper medical advice and getting safe medical cannabis treatment for their psychiatric issues.  

As always, patients should only seek to use medical cannabis products after a close consultation with and careful assessment from an experienced medical practitioner. This is where we can help. At The Medical Cannabis Clinics, we offer our patients the UK’s leading cannabis-based therapy and care for a number of conditions and symptoms, including those discussed above. To contact a member of our team click here

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