Medical Cannabis in Retirement Homes: The Dilemma
Seniors have become a growing demographic that are eagerly seeking out the chance to try for the first time or get back to medical marijuana. Many are part of the baby boomer generation (born 1946-1964) that popularly indulged in recreational marijuana use in the 1960’s. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that cannabis use amongst those over 65 years of age has increased by 250% between 2006 and 2013. They now desire to indulge again, mostly so they can enjoy some of the relief that cannabis affords the many ailments they may now suffer.
There are many health conditions that do benefit from the use of marijuana and its derivatives. Patients have reported better pain control, relief from insomnia and anxiety, lessening of tremors for Parkinson’s sufferers, reduction in nausea, reduction of seizures in child’s epilepsy and boosting of appetite.
As we age, it is natural for health problems to increase or intensify. For a significant portion of older generations, it has become preferable to gain admission to nursing homes where their medical issues can be adequately addressed in their final years. Conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, and chronic ailments like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and a loss of mobility have pushed many to seek care in equipped facilities.
For many of the seniors in these facilities, and even at home, cannabis has become an appealing addition to their medical regimen. Besides the beneficial effect marijuana can have on their ailments, its use has been found to help reduce reliance on drugs such as opioids for relief. This fall in opioid prescriptions in states that do permit medical marijuana use has also consequently resulted in a reduction in opioid overdose deaths according to a report by Science Daily.
Despite the evident strong demand for cannabis amongst seniors, not all is smooth sailing. The overwhelming majority of nursing homes do not allow marijuana consumption on their premises. This is linked to the fact that most are federally funded through Medicare. As such, those running the facilities would not want to run afoul of federal laws that consider marijuana a Schedule I drug under the Control Substances Act (CSA).
Although there are now 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana use, it is still an illegal drug under federal law, with nursing homes concerned that allowing residents to make use of the drug may result in penalties and fines or cancellation of their federal grants. There are however a few trailblazers that are trying to buck the trend and help patients gain the improved quality of life that cannabis can offers.
At the Hebrew Home of Riverdale in New York, a program has been initiated that allows senior residents to access medical marijuana while remaining compliant with federal laws. Under the guidance of the CEO, Dan Reingold, residents can purchase marijuana medications on their own from state-certified dispensaries, store their cannabis in secured lockboxes, self-administer, or have an outsider caregiver assist.
Another challenge that has resulted in some nursing homes resisting the adoption of medical marijuana use amongst their residents is a poor understanding of dosing. With many residents being on a cocktail of drugs and the heavily regulated environment that nursing homes operate in, it has been difficult for doctors to prescribe the right dosage. A medical cannabis educational program is however offered at Hebrew Home to help residents better understand how marijuana treatments can apply to them.
Another nursing home helping residents’ access medical marijuana is the Anderson House in Seattle. Like Hebrew Home, smoking or vaping is not allowed, but residents can make use of tinctures and edibles. Life Care Center of Reno in Nevada offers similar privileges and even has an on-site physician to oversee this treatment.
Dispensaries have also taken notice of the interest that seniors are displaying in their products. Colorado’s Good Chemistry won the ‘best dispensary to take your grandmother’ in 2017 thanks to its simple explanation and description of different cannabis strains. In California, Bud and Bloom makes it easier for nursing home residents to access products by chartering a bus that transports them from the facility to the dispensary. Not only do they get to enjoy senior discounts, but also a catered meal.
For many seniors where marijuana has been legalized for both medical and recreational use, it has become easier and more affordable to simply buy recreationally. In these cases, recreational marijuana can be cheaper than prescription medications and reduces the expense of having to get medically certified and registered with the state. It is, however, a costly out-of-pocket expense, since it is not covered by medical insurance or Medicare. This is ironic given that its use has reduced the level of prescription medications and the use of opioids.
Comment below on how medical or recreational marijuana has benefited you, a friend or a loved one. We’d love to hear your story.