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Aging & Cannabis: 4 Interesting Things We've Learned

Apr 15th 2024

Aging & Cannabis: 4 Interesting Things We've Learned

No matter how much we try to deny it, stop it from happening, or turn it around, the fact we will all age is the most definite thing about life.

Did you know that older Americans are the fastest-growing demographic using medical cannabis and obtaining a medical marijuana card from their state?

Here are 4 interesting things that recent research is revealing about cannabis and aging:

1) Cannabis may prevent problematic opioid use in older adults

Older adults are the highest population at risk of developing problematic opioid use or opioid use disorder (OUD). This age group is more at risk than other age groups because of a higher prevalence of pain, comorbid or coexisting illnesses, and depression. Problematic use of opioids by older adults tripled between the years of 2015 to 2018, indicating that this is becoming an increasing problem as the United States gains a larger elderly population. 

A 2023 study looked at the prevalence of opioid prescriptions in states where medical cannabis laws had been passed. The study identified “a significant decrease in direct payments from opioid manufacturers to pain medicine physicians as an effect of [medical marijuana law or MML] passage” and found that “physicians in states with an MML are prescribing fewer opioids.”

The study concluded that this phenomenon was “due to the availability of medical marijuana as a substitute.” In other words, where there is medical cannabis available legally, residents of states are more likely to consider other options, such as getting a medical marijuana card, rather than choosing to use opioids.

With problematic opioid use and OUD being more prevalent in older adults, this study shows significant promise that this group may be able to avoid this when provided other options like a medical cannabis certification.

2) Cannabis therapy may help stimulate muscle regeneration in older adults

It’s widely known that as adults go through the aging process, they begin to lose strength and mass within their muscles. A 2021 study looked at the role of the CB1 receptor within the endocannabinoid system in muscle regeneration.

The CB1 receptors essentially act as traffic cops for neurotransmitters or signals between the brain and the parts of the body. When the CB1 is modulated, they provide immediate feedback to parts of the body telling them what to do: turn up, or turn down activity, such as body temperature, our levels of hunger, or how alert we feel.

The study saw that the CB1 was expressed higher in older adults when it came to muscle strength and muscle mass than older adults. While this study is extremely preliminary, the researchers suggest gaining a further understanding of the role of modulating or influencing the CB1 in the treatment of cachexia (wasting syndrome), sarcopenia (the age related loss of muscle mass and strength), and other muscle-devastating conditions in older humans.

In other words, cannabis therapy can play a role in regenerating and strengthening muscle in older adults through the role of the CB1.

3) “Less may be more” for cognitive improvements

It is believed that THC may help improve cognition in older adults, however, how well THC may improve cognition depends on age and amount of THC consumed. A 2020 study that reviewed other animal studies that looked the effects of cannabis on cognition in aging saw that extremely low doses of THC improved cognition in very old animal subjects (rodents) while somewhat higher chronic doses improved cognition in moderately aged rodents. 

This review suggests that when using cannabis as a way to improve cognition, it may be more beneficial to use higher doses or higher potency cannabis products in middle age, and to titrate down in THC potency as one gets older. Of course, when exploring cannabis through a medical marijuana card, it’s best to always try a few different products, doses, and methods of consumption to find what works best for you.

4) The endocannabinoid system may have a greater role in our sleep as we age

There is evidence that suggests that the endocannabinoid system may play a greater role in our sleep during the aging process. In particular, when the CB1 receptor that we mentioned earlier is activated, it plays a role in our sleep/wake cycle, promoting sleep, thus ensuring we get adequate rest.

It is believed that using CBD is one way to activate the CB1 receptor, and thus promote sleep and rest.

Stay tuned to future newsletters as we share more about what the research is revealing.

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