Older adults are increasingly trying CBD and cannabis. What should they expect?

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Almost one-third of U.S. adults have consumed CBD in the past 24 months, including 20 per cent of Americans 65 and older, according to a national survey from Consumer Reports.

That’s in line with research from JAMA Internal Medicine, which found that cannabis consumption among those 65 or older in the U.S. has doubled in recent years. And according to StatsCan, seniors are the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis consumers in Canada.

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As cannabis laws continue to be reformed, and with CBD turning up in everything from pillowcases to sports drinks, Consumer Reports looked at some of the science behind the plant’s therapeutic potential.

Despite lifting cannabis prohibition in Canada, and 46 U.S. states having approved the plant for medical or recreational use, it remains difficult to conduct clinical research trials. In fact, according to a recent analysis by Science, funding for cannabis research in the U.S. over the last two decades has primarily gone towards studying the plant’s potential harms.

Still, there is much early-days research pointing to the effectiveness of cannabis in treating a variety of conditions. The most substantial evidence, as gathered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), indicates that cannabis is an effective treatment option for chronic pain, nausea, vomiting from chemotherapy, and muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis (M.S.).

Additional research indicates that cannabis may help treat sleep problems and pain from fibro­myalgia and M.S. Data gathered by NASEM shows that of the U.S. states that allow access to medical cannabis, cancer, HIV and AIDS, M.S., glaucoma, seizures and pain are among the most recognized qualifying ailments.

As for CBD, a 2018 review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids found that CBD may help treat anxiety, depression and seizures by reducing inflammation. Also, a 2019 Consumer Reports survey found that more than 75 per cent of the 1,000 respondents found CBD to be at least moderately effective for their purposes, with the majority taking it for joint pain.

In 2018, Epidiolex became the first cannabis-derived drug to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Epidiolex is a prescription CBD medication for treating seizures associated with two forms of epilepsy.

“This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies,” then FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said at the time. “The FDA is committed to this kind of careful scientific research and drug development.”

Consumer Reports cautions that any seniors who are thinking about consuming cannabis for the first time should speak to their doctor to discuss any possible drug interactions and to remain mindful of potency and possible side effects.

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