Cannabis for Seniors
There is a lot of news lately about folks using medical cannabis (marijuana) to treat pain and other ailments, but what you don’t hear about is exactly what to use, how to use it and where to get it.
It was an eye-opening experience when this goody-two-shoes, conservative-minded, concerned daughter tried to get information on how to use cannabis to treat her 88-year-old mother’s arthritis pain. I am the daughter, who never experimented with pot in high school or college and now embarked on what felt like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to get some “marijuana medicine” for my mom.
It’s not like you can go to your doctor and ask for a prescription for cannabis and fill it at your nearest pharmacy. Cannabis can’t be “prescribed” it can only be “recommended” by a doctor and it’s up to the patient to figure out what to use, how much and how often…what?! That didn’t sound like good medicine and I was about to write it off as an option for my mom, but I was curious to learn more and that’s how everything I thought I knew about this plant was turned upside down. I started reading up on cannabis on the internet and picked up a copy of High Times Magazine, which was surprisingly informative for a magazine that has “high” right in the title. The information I read about the healing properties of this ancient plant seemed unbelievable and what was more unbelievable was how did I not know about any of this? I have been a registered nurse for over 25 years and never encountered one medicine that could be beneficial for dozens of medical conditions with relatively few, mild side effects. It seemed too good to believe and then I found The American Cannabis Nurses Association which offered a course on scientifically based information on the use of cannabis medicine. Now, I was hooked…on learning more about this plant.
In my studies, I discovered that the “marijuana” I was so scared of trying on my mom was actually far safer than the opioids she was currently taking to manage her arthritis pain. I also learned you didn’t have to smoke it or get high at all to receive the pain-relieving benefits of this plant. Most importantly, I began to think of it as a plant - a healing plant, created by God, for our benefit, rather than a street drug. Granted people can misuse cannabis to their detriment, like they can with alcohol, prescription drugs, sex, food, shopping, etc. but that is a narrow view that shouldn’t limit the responsible use of this plant to ease the pain and suffering of millions of people with chronic conditions.
The first step on this journey was learning that indeed cannabis has been shown effective for relieving arthritis pain, so the second step was to find a doctor to write a Letter of Recommendation to obtain the medicine from a dispensary. The visit to the Pot Doc’s (as they are sometimes called) office was… uh…interesting…as there was no ADA compliant entrance for my mother, who uses a walker and the burly receptionist had to practically carried her up the front steps to the office. The doctor took her vitals and asked for a brief medical history – that seemed legitimate - but wouldn’t give much direction on how to use the medicine or where to obtain it. She did suggest I download the Weed Maps app, which seemed a little weird, but it was going to get weirder. The doctor seemed to grow annoyed with my many questions but was a little more pleasant when we paid the fee to obtain the “Letter” with the shiny gold seal. I also obtained a ‘caregiver’ letter so I could purchase the cannabis medicine on my mother’s behalf. As of January 2018, in California and other states where cannabis is legal for Adult Use, a Letter of Recommendation is no longer required for purchase of products, but it does save money on the additional taxes that are charged on cannabis.
With Letter in hand, the third step in this process was to go to a dispensary and find medicine, although I had no idea what I was going to get. Weed Maps led me to an address near my house with no signage and a guy that looked like Snoop Dog’s younger brother behind the counter. After filling out the necessary paperwork, he buzzed me through two locked doors and at this point I wished I had told somebody where I was going in case I was never seen again. Two young girls in their early twenties were behind the counter and asked what I was looking for. I expected them to look like hip pharmacists, but they did not. They were hip young girls, like you see at the mall. They showed me jars of what looked like bad smelling, green potpourri and I asked if my mother was supposed to eat that, to which they responded by giving me a weird look and saying “….uh…no, you smoke it”. I repeated to these young “budtenders”, as I now know they are called, that she is 88 years old, with dementia and pain and will not be learning to smoke, so what else could I give her? I left with a couple of different CBD rich chocolate bars, and a bag of CBD gummy candies to figure out an appropriate dose because “just a little bit” is not an actual dose that the nurse in me was comfortable administering.
The last step in the process was to give my mom her new cannabis candy-medicine and see how it worked. After a lot of online searching, I settled on 10mg of CBD as a good starting dose and gave it to her 3 times a day. Her opioid pills were ready if she needed them for pain, but she went 3 days without needing a pain pill after taking 3-4 pills a day for months. Success! The cannabis medicine worked, but needed to be tweaked as the CBD at bedtime, was keeping her awake. She then started on a low amounts of THC (5mg) at night and that really helped.
She eventually had to have one pain pill at bedtime along with the THC for a better result, but she no longer had the opioid induced constipation and other personality changes she experienced with the pain pills.
It was a bumpy and wild ride, full of uncertainty, but like countless other stories, because the patients and the families persist and continue to have faith in this medicinal plant the results are worth it. One thing that fills me with hope is that cannabis is not one medicine. Because of the more than 400 compounds it contains and the variety of plant strains, it is actually hundreds of medicines. Humans have known this for a very long time and before the US government outlawed this plant in the 1930s, it was widely used by physicians in America and all over the world as a safe, natural medicine. In fact, cannabis is one of the oldest medicines used by humans as evidenced by written records that date back to 4700 BC where it was used as a remedy in China.
Think of all the people who could benefit from this natural plant medicine if they only understood what it can do and how to use it. The majority of patients seek cannabis for the relief of pain, anxiety and sleep issues but people have found it useful for countless other conditions as well. The stigma and ignorance are finally starting to be replaced by acceptance and education on the benefits of cannabis and there is science to back it up. Thank goodness! It’s about time we have more effective alternatives to synthetic prescription medications.
Sue Feldmeth, RN
Sue Feldmeth provides educational presentations to groups who want to learn more about the use of medical cannabis as well as one on one consultations and guidance for those who want to use cannabis to treat their particular condition. She is located in Pasadena, California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.