While medical cannabis use continues to increase across the board, the amount of Americans 60 or older using it is growing faster than any other age demographic. Despite this, a new study shows that older patients continue to have difficultly accessing this potentially life-saving medication.
Researchers from the University of Colorado recently set out to find how older Americans perceive and use medical marijuana. To do so they conducted 17 focus groups across Colorado and interviewed 136 people over the age of 60.
"Older Americans are using cannabis for a lot of different reasons," study co-author Dr. Hillary Lum from the University of Colorado School of Medicine told Science Daily. "Some use it to manage pain while others use it for depression or anxiety."
But while the use of medical marijuana to help a number of different health conditions is growing quickly among older Americans, many continue to face difficulties in actually getting it. Over all, older patients either avoided talking about medical marijuana with their physicians entirely because of associated stigmas or found that their doctors could not, or would not, provide them with information about cannabis when they did ask about it.
"I think [doctors can] be a lot more open to learning about it and discussing it with their patients," said one focus group respondent. "Because at this point I have told my primary care I was using it on my shoulder. And that was the end of the conversation. He didn't want to know why, he didn't want to know about effects, didn't want to know about side effects, didn't want to know anything."
Because of the poor communication between patients and physicians, most of the study's respondents didn't have medical marijuana cards and were sourcing their cannabis from the recreational market instead.
"From a physician's standpoint this study shows the need to talk to patients in a non-judgmental way about cannabis," Lum said. "Doctors should also educate themselves about the risks and benefits of cannabis and be able to communicate that effectively to patients."
For many older patients, medical marijuana could prove to be a much safer alternative to the opioid medications that they are more often prescribed for treating pain and other conditions. But until doctors start seriously talking to their patients about medical marijuana, that option will continue to be unavailable for many.