We have heard a lot about cannabis being really effective in the treatment of certain forms of epilepsy among children. In fact, the campaign for easy access to medical cannabis in the United Kingdom is centered on children who need the drug to reduce life threatening epileptic seizures.
However, there is more to medical cannabis than this. And it is not just children and younger adults who can use the drug for its medicinal benefits. Even the elderly can use cannabis for a range of diseases that are generally associated with old age.
What are these diseases and how does cannabis help?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and thinking skills. Eventually, it also takes away the patient’s ability to carry out simple tasks.
This neurodegenerative disease damages and kills a patient’s brain cells and leaves the brain with fewer healthy and surviving cells. The more brain cells are destroyed, the brain significantly shrinks.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type and cause of dementia.
In most Alzheimer’s patients, the symptoms first appear in the mid-60s. Unless it is a case of early-onset Alzheimer’s, which occurs between the 30s and mid-60s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s are rather rare.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include difficulty remembering things, mild confusion, and difficulty organizing thoughts. Patients eventually forget important events and important people in the lives. They also go through dramatic changes in their personality and will eventually lose their ability to perform even the simplest and most familiar tasks.
Causes and characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease
The disease is not yet fully understood and its exact causes have not yet been determined by the scientific community. Doctors, however, believe that for most Alzheimer’s patients, it is caused by a combination of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors, which adversely affect their brain over time.
Upon examining the brain tissue of patients, scientists have found that there two types of abnormalities that are now considered as the key contributors and the hallmark characteristics of the disease. These are:
1. Plaques or clumps of beta-amyloid protein. These amyloid plaques destroy the brain cells in a few ways, including interfering with communication between cells.
2. Threads of tau protein that twist into abnormal tangles within the brain cells. This leads to a failure in the nutrient transport system and in the internal support system. The transport system is in charge of delivering essential nutrients throughout the brain.
How does cannabis help treat Alzheimer’s disease?
A pre-clinical study that was published in 2014 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that very small doses of the psychoactive chemical compound found in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can slow the production of these beta-amyloid proteins and therefore suggest the effectiveness of THC in preventing the formation of toxic amyloid plaques, which is one of the hallmark characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study conducted by researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California found that THC and other cannabis compounds may reduce the amount of beta amyloid found in the brain.
In the Salk Institute study, the researchers found that exposing beta amyloid proteins to THC reduces beta amyloid levels, stops the inflammatory response from the nerve cells – which is caused by the beta amyloid, and allows these nerve cells to survive.
The author’s lead author, Antonio Currais, noted that inflammation in the brain is a major component of the damage that is associated with the disease. He said that when they identified the molecular basis of this inflammatory response and attributed it to amyloid beta, it became clear that compounds created by the nerve cells that are similar to THC may be involved in protecting these cells from dying.
Pain (Arthritis and Other Joint Pain, Nerve Damage, and Pain from Chronic Illness)
Most people experience some sort of pain in their senior years. This may be caused by conditions like arthritis and joint pain, nerve damage, and certain chronic illnesses like cancer.
There are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis and other related conditions. There are degenerative types of arthritis, and there are inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic ones.
While it affects people of all ages and races, and of both genders, arthritis occurs more frequently as one’s age advances.
Common symptoms of arthritis include pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of movements. These symptoms may come and go and they can range from mild, to moderate, to severe. Severe arthritis could result to chronic pain, difficulty in walking and climbing stairs, and inability to perform daily tasks.
The disease can also cause permanent joint damage. And there are types of arthritis that may affect the eyes, heart, kidneys, lungs, and skin.
What causes arthritis and joint pain?
There is no single cause for arthritis. The causes could vary, depending on what type of arthritis it is. These causes could include any or a combination of any of these: injury, abnormal metabolism, genetics, infections, and immune system dysfunction.
While some people may be more genetically inclined to develop arthritis or joint pain, in others, it can be brought about by a previous injury or by lifestyle, such as having physically demanding jobs, smoking, or a diet that contains high-purine foods like meats, seafood, and red wine.
How does cannabis help with arthritic pain?
Cannabis is known to possess anti-inflammatory properties. The cannabinoids found in the drug — particularly CBD and THC — help fight inflammation and pain.
In one study, researchers found that the joints of arthritis patients have very high levels of CB1 receptors. Because of this, they concluded that the substances found in cannabis that trigger the activation of these receptors can potentially reduce inflammation and pain.
In yet another study, scientists found that THC can change molecules that can help suppress inflammation.
CBD has likewise proven to be effective in alleviating arthritis symptoms. According to a study by researchers at the University of Kentucky, applying CBD on the skin in the affected area can relieve inflammation and pain. And CBD does so without any known side effects.
There was also a study that discovered that early use of CBD as treatment can prevent nerve damage and nerve pain in osteoarthritic joints.
Nerve pain can be a symptom of any one of different conditions like cancer, diabetes, and HIV. For some people, nerve pain can just be frustrating, but for others, it can be life-changing and devastating.
Nerve pain may come as a mere burning sensation, or it may feel like needle pricks, or sudden electric shocks. It can limit one’s ability to get around and disrupt life at home and at work. Studies have shown that people who suffer from nerve pain have higher rates of anxiety, sleep problems, and depression.
What causes nerve pain?
The body has countless nerves that convey a wide range of sensations to the brain. Pain is one of these sensations. And while nobody likes to feel pain, it has a very important function: it helps prevent injury or further injury, or it could indicate a more serious problem in the body that needs to be addressed.
However, for people with nerve pain, this messaging system between the nerves and the brain does not work the way it should. Your brain receives a signal for pain and so you feel it, but there is no obvious cause. So it is just pain without a direct and specific purpose, so there is no immediate way to for a patient to get relief.
Usually, nerves behave this way due to damage from a physical injury or damage brought about by a disease or a chronic ailment, such as tumors and cancer, HIV, shingles, or diabetes.
Tumors, for one, can press on its surrounding nerves as they grow in size. Cancers can grow out of the nerves themselves, too. And sometimes, treatments for cancer, like chemotherapy, can do damage to the nerves.
HIV, meanwhile, can cause painful nerve damage, with nerve pain in the feet and in the hands being the first symptoms to appear. Treatment using antiretroviral drugs can also cause nerve pain.
In the United States, diabetes is a common cause of nerve damage. This is because high glucose levels in the blood can injure the nerves over time.
As for shingles, it can lead to a painful condition called postherpetic neuralgia, which is a type of nerve pain that can be sudden and severe.
Physical injuries, on the other hand, can damage nerves that get crushed, compressed, or severed.
Aside from these diseases and medical conditions, nerve damage and nerve pain can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies, repetitive stress, hormone imbalance, stroke, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, alcoholism, Guillain-Barre syndrome, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, and many others. Still, in some cases, nerve pain just develops for no apparent reason.
How does cannabis help with neuropathic pain?
There is no high-quality evidence from studies that cannabis is greatly effective in treating neuropathic pain. However, there is a significant number of patients who are already unresponsive to other forms of treatment but who attested that cannabis has provided them relief.
This is mainly because of the substance’s relationship with the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The peripheral nerves that can sense pain contain cannabinoid receptors and are thus activated when cannabis is consumed. When CBD and THC enter the body, the CB1 and CB2 receptors that regulate the central nervous system are activated. This, in turn, enables cannabis to manage pain levels.
A small study in 2010 found that inhaling 25mg of 9.4% THC thrice a day for five days reduces the intensity of pain and improves sleep.
Another study in 2013 found that cannabis, when compared to traditional nerve pain medication, can reduce pain with lower dosages. Cannabis can act as pain reliever with a dosage of 1.29% while traditional pain relief drugs have a medium dosage of 3.53%.
In a separate study in 2015, researchers found that cannabinoids are effective when it comes to lowering pain levels that are associated with cancer, neuropathy, and other chronic and acute pain conditions.
One thing is for sure, though: more extensive studies are needed to investigate the relationship between cannabis and pain.
Glaucoma is an issue with the eyes that occurs when the nerves in the eyeball get damaged by fluid buildup. Glaucoma is considered to be the leading causes of blindness for people over 60 years old.
Glaucoma causes increasing pressure in the eyes due to the amount of fluid, thus affecting eyesight.
How does cannabis help in treating glaucoma?
The use of cannabis in the treatment of glaucoma can be traced back to the 1970s. According to studies at the time, smoking pot lowered the intraocular pressure (IOP) of those suffering from glaucoma.
As a result of this particular research, more studies were conducted to examine whether cannabis or THC could be used to keep the IOP lowered. The National Eye Institute supported this research.
The study found that when cannabis is smoked or when a form of THC is taken by injection or by pill, it lowers the IOP, but only for a short period of time. This short period of time, which is about three to four hours, is a big drawback for the use of cannabis to treat glaucoma. This is because glaucoma needs to be treated 24 hours a day. This would mean the need to smoke pot six to eight times around the clock. But because of THC’s mood-altering effect, smoking it all throughout the day would leave one unable to drive, to operate equipment, or to function fully.
Other conditions or ailments that often plague seniors and are treated using cannabis include insomnia, decreased appetite, and muscle spasms.
Seniors: The Fastest Growing Cannabis Demographic in the U.S.
According to a study conducted in 2016, seniors are the fastest-growing demographic for pot users in the United States, with cannabis consumption among people at least 55 years old increasing by 53% from 2013 to 2014.
This trend of senior cannabis users is not unusual, though. Many of the medical conditions and ailments that cannabis is most often used for are ailments that often plague the elderly.
Moreover, many elderly consumers have the disposable income to spend on cannabis products.
Not all elderly in the U.S. are free to use cannabis, though. Of course, there are still states that have not legalized the use of medical marijuana just yet. Elderly people in these states have no means of getting legal access to the drug.
Also, there are many nursing facilities with a higher level of care that is regulated by the federal government. These homes are understandably afraid to lose Medicaid and Medicare funds if they allow the use of cannabis.