Medical marijuana may bring relief to older people who have symptoms like pain, sleep disorders, or anxiety due to chronic conditions including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, neuropathy, spinal cord damage, and multiple sclerosis. This is according to a preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 71st Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, May 4 to 10, 2019. The study not only found medical marijuana may be safe and effective, it also found that one-third of participants reduced their use of opioids. However, the study was retrospective and relied on participants reporting whether they experienced symptom relief, so it is possible that the placebo effect may have played a role. Randomized placebo-controlled studies are needed.
“With legalization in many states, medical marijuana has become a popular treatment option among people with chronic diseases and disorders, yet there is limited research, especially in older people,” says study author Laszlo Mechtler, MD, of Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, NY, and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, in a release. “Our findings are promising and can help fuel further research into medical marijuana as an additional option for this group of people who often have chronic conditions.”
The study involved 204 people with an average age of 81 who were enrolled in New York State’s Medical Marijuana Program. Participants took various ratios of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to cannabidiol (CBD), the main active chemicals in medical marijuana, for an average of four months and had regular checkups. The medical marijuana was taken by mouth as a liquid extract tincture, capsule, or in an electronic vaporizer.
Initially, 34% of participants had side effects from the medical marijuana. After an adjustment in dosage, only 21% reported side effects. The most common side effects were sleepiness in 13% of patients, balance problems in 7%, and gastrointestinal disturbances in 7%. Three percent of the participants stopped taking the medical marijuana due to the side effects. Researchers say a ratio of one-to-one THC to CBD was the most common ratio among people who reported no side effects.
Researchers found that 69% of participants experienced some symptom relief. Of those, the most common conditions that improved were pain with 49% experiencing relief, sleep symptoms with 18% experiencing relief, neuropathy improving in 15%, and anxiety improving in 10%.
Opioid pain medication was reduced in 32% of participants.
“Our findings show that medical marijuana is well-tolerated in people age 75 and older and may improve symptoms like chronic pain and anxiety,” says Mechtler. “Future research should focus on symptoms like sleepiness and balance problems, as well as efficacy and optimal dosing.”
The study was supported by the Dent Family Foundation.