Cannabis & Aging: Myths VS. Truths

THE FRONT LINE | Farmacann Magazine: Fall/Winter 2016 

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When I started my business in 2005 I hoped that in some way I could make a difference in the lives of people who were facing some of the most difficult times in life, our senior citizens. As a care manager, my job was to make sure that doctor appointments were kept, that pills were properly dispensed, and that qualified caregivers in the home could improve the quality of life for those we served, as well as giving peace of mind to their families. Little did I know that the journey would lead me to be a believer in an alternative form of care and treatment: Cannabis.

One of the first cases that challenged my skills, knowledge and flexibility was a sweet little lady named Rose with agitated dementia. She was living in a residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE) and was nothing short of a pistol. Her dementia didn’t allow her to rest or sleep and she was up day and night going through drawers, tossing things about and disturbing other residents. I was called in when Rose’s agitation escalated to biting, kicking and putting other residents at risk.

Her primary care physician ordered psychotropic drugs for Rose with “black box” warnings that indicate they may cause severe unwanted effects including sudden death. Her family had concerns but within a week following the new drugs, Rose was much more somnolent and able to rejoin her dance group. Then, unfortunately, during her first dance she had an episode that required a 911 call and a trip to the ER. The drug, for her, was discontinued but now the pressure was on from the RCFE… if nothing else could be done, then Rose had to be moved.

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(Not a photo of the patient)

After consulting with Dr. Philip Grob, a re nowned Geriatric Psychiatrist here in Sonoma County who has been studying the effects of cannabis products in the elderly, we decided to give it serious consideration. There was little written or known at the time about the side effects beyond dry mouth, constipation, and possible paranoia so we discussed the possibility with the family and explained the alternatives. A decision was made to move forward.

Within a few days a “brownie” was purchased and the process began. We started low and slow because dosing was a mystery. The first day we gave Rose the equivalent of 1/8 of a brownie and a glass of milk. Literally within an hour her mood had changed for the better as she sat with other residents and held their hands while smiling. The care providers were able to bathe and dress Rose without a battle, her appetite improved.

That evening she was given another 1/8th of a brownie and Rose slept through the night for the first time in weeks. When she woke her mood was improved and within 24 hours of her first dose Rose was the poster child for her facility! She was also not lethargic. She was able to participate in activities that she could not even focus on just one day before.

Over the next few days the dosage was regulated up and down according to Rose’s need. More brownie at bedtime allowed for a better night’s sleep, less during the day allowed for more involvement and engagement in life.

We thought perhaps this was a fluke, but then came another client who not only had dementia but also had experienced a slight stroke. This stroke did not affect motor function but most definitely effected speech. He was speaking in a “word salad.” When he spoke you could see in his eyes that he knew exactly what he was saying but the words came out all mixed up and backwards making no sense at all. It was very frustrating for him and the family as well.

The family was initially opposed to trying cannabis but they finally agreed to try Marinol, a synthetic THC used most commonly to treat the nausea and vomiting after cancer treatment. It is very expensive, is not covered by prescription for anything other than treatment for the side effects of nausea and vomiting, and does not contain any of the CBD or other symbiotic properties of cannabis that are now known to be healing and curative. Within 45 minutes of the first dose the kind gentleman had regained his words and told stories of times past in complete sentences.

Why did this happen for these two people, I wondered? Cannabis prohibition has limited the scientific facts that surround the benefits from a drug that could be derived from a common “weed” which can provide a higher quality of life for many. Cannabis is more cost effective,and with new technology the dosing isn’t such a guessing game. What once was found only in brownies and joints now also comes in topical preparations and capsules that are formulated for specific uses, such as the Farmacann line of products.

We have also seen people use topical cannabis and be relieved of long standing pain in a matter of days if not hours. We have even seen arthritic pets once again feel comfortable enough to climb in the car or enthusiastically go for longer walks again.

Recently there was a study that claimed it has been identified that the human body has natural cannabinoid receptors in the endocrine system. Could it be that nature’s plan all along was for us to utilize the properties of cannabis to aid in healing rather than having our access to be restricted? I would urge you to do your own research and determine if you feel cannabis is right for you or your family members!