The growing prevalence of marijuana use among New Zealand seniors
New Zealand seniors have become the main demographic championing the course to end cannabis prohibition. With the fog of stigma gradually giving way to well-informed awareness of cannabis benefits, more seniors are turning up at cannabis dispensaries to seek alternatives to mainstream medication.
The legalization of the drug for medical use in New Zealand, coupled with gorgeous vape pens and other discreet drug delivery systems, are taking the sting off the stigma that once discourage seniors from cannabis use. The government’s promise of a 2020 referendum on recreational cannabis legalisation also doesn’t hurt.
According to a 2016 study, beneficiaries of part D of Medicare in the United States (U.S.) -- a provision primarily designed for seniors -- obtained more prescriptions for cannabis than for any other drugs for the treatment of pain, depression, anxiety, and other ails common among seniors.
Even before legalisation, cannabis use was trending among seniors. Source
The same is true in New Zealand. Many seniors here have reaped immense health benefits from cannabis, and are even willing to skirt the law to keep using the drug.
The reasons aren’t only medicinal, however. This generation of seniors lived through the hippy era of the 60’s and 70’s where drug use was very much prevalent. They’re very well aware that marijuana can hardly bring them any harm, especially when compared to other hard drugs used in those days.
Do senior cannabis consumers consider scientific evidence?
Many studies on marijuana have resulted in conflicting outcomes. Thus, some might say that the jury is still out on the exact ways in which marijuana interacts with the body. However, many seniors in New Zealand are convinced about the efficacy of marijuana in treating various ailments. This makes them willfully substitute cannabis products for many over-the-counter or prescription drugs.
And so far, the TGA (Therapeutics Goods Association) in neighboring Australia has approved thousands of applications for the use of marijuana to treat of aliments that just happen to be mostly common among seniors. Some of these include chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and Alzhiemer’s. New Zealand seniors are also required by law to obtain marijuana only through the prescription of a certified medical practitioner.
However, seniors have to go through one too many steps to get an approved prescription. As a result, most senior users in the country flaunt the supposed consumer protection offered by the official distribution system and buy unapproved cannabis products instead of other prescription drugs, simply because cannabis works best for them.
Some foregone conclusions about how cannabis interacts with the body
One of the reasons why the cannabis plant has drawn so much attention from researchers in recent years is due to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system that took place in the 90’s. The body produces its own cannabinoids, which act as chemical signals that are critical to our physiology.
Perminder Sachdev, a neurophysicist and co-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, explains the wide range of effects that can occur when the cannabinoids in cannabis interact with two crucial cannabinoids receptor in the body: CB1 and CB2.
According to Sachdev, when the CB1 and CB2 receptors are activated, some chemicals in the brain are reduced, along with brain inflammation. Some cannabis compounds, primarily THC and CBD, act on these receptors, resulting in some significant medicinal effects.
Why medical cannabis is preferred to opiates by seniors
According to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Medicare part D recipients obtained 14 percent less opioid prescriptions after the legalization of medical marijuana. This represents a silver lining for the opioid crisis. Besides the problem of addiction, most patients placed on opioids are usually wary of its long term effects on the kidney, liver, stomach and other body organs.
It’s not just NZ -- seniors are the fastest growing group of cannabis users everywhere. Source
Leah Bisiani, a registered nurse specializing in the care for the elderly and a medical cannabis advocate, is upbeat about the prospects of more studies on the effectiveness of cannabis for pain relief. Bisiani points out the opiate dependence of seniors due to pain-related conditions, along with the dependence on other over the counter drugs for the side effects of those opiates. She points out the importance of a natural alternative with less or no side effects, and cannabis may be just that.
While the jury is still out on the definitive underlying mechanics of how marijuana interacts with the body, the seniors are fast-rooting for drug. This is likely due to their need for medicinal relief, given that they are prone to medical conditions. Cannabis provides a welcome alternative for them with its limited side effects, if any at all.
Most of these senior users have lived through the drug abuse saga of the 60’s and 70’s that led to worldwide prohibition, and are no strangers to the drug. Others are only getting to use cannabis for the first time in their lives. Regardless of which group they fall into, cannabis use is becoming a welcome practice among New Zealand seniors.