More older patients say they’re willing to try medical marijuana if their doctor recommends it

Managing pain gets more challenging as people age. There are many ways to control pain, from home remedies to cannabis or marijuana.

A new national poll has found that few older adults use medical marijuana for pain management, but a majority support its use if a doctor recommends it, and may even talk to their own physician about it if they develop a serious health condition.

The poll involved over 2,000 Americans aged 50 to 80. It was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation (IHPI). The poll respondents answered a wide range of questions online. The data were interpreted and compiled by the IHPI team.

According to the poll results, 40 percent of the respondents said they support using marijuana for any reason, while four out of five respondents said they support allowing medical marijuana if it’s recommended by a doctor.

Two-thirds of the poll respondents said they thought marijuana can relieve pain, and 48 percent said they believed prescription medications were more effective than marijuana.

Only 14 percent thought marijuana was more effective than prescription pain relievers, and 38 percent believed the two were equally effective.

The poll also asked respondents about negative effects of prescription medications and marijuana. A total of 48 percent thought prescription painkillers were more addictive than marijuana, and 57 percent said that such medicines had more side effects than marijuana.

“With medical marijuana already legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and other states considering legalizing this use or all use, this is an issue of interest to patients, providers and policymakers alike,” said Preeti Malani, M.D. from the University of Michigan (U-M), director of the poll and a specialist in treatment of older patients.

Malani notes that the poll results indicate older Americans have a sense of wariness around medical marijuana, which may be surprising to those who thought that the Baby Boomer generation – who are now in their mid-50s to early 70s – embraced marijuana use in their youth in the 60s and the 70s.

Marijuana and pain

Other studies have highlighted what’s currently known about the indications and risks of medical marijuana for older adults. Some reviews note that medical marijuana appears useful for pain management, particularly neuropathic pain, as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Neuropathic pain is caused by nerve damage, or neuropathy. Neuropathy can occur with diabetes, HIV infection or medications, and chemotherapy.

Marijuana is also said to be helpful for older adults with poor appetite and nausea who are at risk for weight loss and malnutrition.

The above-mentioned national poll sheds new light on older Americans’ attitudes toward the use of marijuana to manage pain.

“Although older adults may be a bit wary about marijuana, the majority support more research on it,” saids Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “This openness to more research likely speaks to a desire to find safe, alternative treatments to control pain.”

The new poll results indicate an appetite for further government-sponsored research, including government-standardized dosing.

Malani notes that providers should be routinely asking older patients about marijuana use. Only one in five respondents said their primary healthcare provider had asked whether they use marijuana. A slightly lower percentage said they thought their physician was knowledgeable about medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, 3/4 of the respondents said they didn’t know how much their physician knows about the topic. Still, 70 percent of the respondents said they would definitely or probably ask their healthcare provider about medical marijuana if they had a serious condition that might respond to it. Physicians may need to be ready to answer questions and provide counseling to patients, especially in states where medical marijuana is legal.

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