Medical Cannabis Helps Older People with Parkinson’s, Other Diseases, Study Finds

Iqra Mumal, MSc avatar

by Iqra Mumal, MSc |

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Medical cannabis is a safe and effective way for older people to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s, cancer and other diseases, particularly pain, a study shows.

The study in the European Journal of Internal Medicine also reported that after six months more than 18 percent of patients surveyed had either reduced or discontinued their use of opioid pain medications.

The use of medical cannabis has grown significantly in recent years. Because of an aging population, the use has increased in older people in particular.

“While older patients represent a large and growing population of medical cannabis users, few studies have addressed how it affects this particular group, which also suffers from dementia, frequent falls, mobility problems, and hearing and visual impairments,” Dr. Victor Novack, a professor in the Ben Gurion University Faculty of Health Sciences in Israel, said in a press release.

This prompted a Ben Gurion team to look at who among the elderly use medical cannabis and whether it is safe and effective for them. Novack is also head of the Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute.

The study, “Epidemiological characteristics, safety and efficacy of medical cannabis in the elderly,” involved 2,736 patients 65  years or older. They had received medical cannabis through Tikun Olam, Israel’s largest medical cannabis supplier, between January 2015 and October 2017.

Researchers asked patients whether the cannabis had reduced their pain and improved their quality of life. They also asked if it had led to any adverse events at six months.

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The mean age of those who answered the questionnaire was 74.5  years. Sixty-seven percent said they used cannabis to relieve pain. Sixty-one percent said their treatment was related to cancer.

After six months of treatment, 94 percent of the respondents reported an improvement in their condition. A key finding was that their pain level had dropped in half, according to a scale used to measure it.

And 18.1 percent reported either having reduced or discontinued their use of opioids for pain. Because opioids can have long-term consequences, including addiction, this was a good sign, researchers said.

In terms of safety, patients’ most common adverse events were dizziness — a possible concern for Parkinson’s patients because of a risk of falls, reported by almost 10 percent of study participants — and dry mouth, in 7.1 percent.

“After monitoring patients 65 and older for six months, we found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported,” Novack said.

This prompted the researchers to write that “our study finds that the therapeutic use of cannabis is safe and efficacious in the elderly population.”

In addition, “cannabis use may decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids,” they wrote.

They called for research based on clinical trials rather than just questionnaires.