The Uprise of Cannabis in Assisted Living Facilities

Legal recreational and medicinal marijuana use is becoming increasingly common all over the United States. More and more regions are passing laws that permit marijuana use for various purposes, which means that marijuana use is on the rise across the country.

Perfectly in lockstep with this trend, more and more patients and residents in nursing home communities are discovering the benefits that medicinal marijuana affords them. Patients in nursing homes commonly rely on expensive, potentially habit-forming and dangerous drugs for managing their pain, but with the popular acceptance of medical marijuana as a viable painkiller, some are shifting toward cannabis for their pain management needs.

The New York Times recently reported on the uprise of cannabis at senior facilities when they interviewed 98 year-old patient Ruth Brunn. As Ms. Brunn, a resident at a senior living center in New York stated, “I don’t feel high or stoned. All I know is I feel better when I take this.”

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Cannabis an Alternative to Opioids?

Cannabis has earned its place as an effective alternative to more risky painkillers. The U.S. continues in the throes of an opioid epidemic which has lingered for the better part of a decade and patients are concerned. With increased awareness of opioid dangers, more and more patients want non-opioid alternatives for pain management. Drugs like morphine, fentanyl, and other opioids carry with them many physiological risks which simply don’t exist for medical cannabis users and presents cannabis as a safer treatment option and attributing to the dramatic rise in medical marijuana use in retirement communities and assisted living facilities.

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Medical cannabis boasts several health and wellbeing benefits and treats many ailments suffered by seniors. Some look to medicinal properties of marijuana to treat discomfort from ailments like arthritis, while others seek relief from nausea and the loss of appetite brought on by other common treatments.

The emotional toll of living with constant pain is as much of a concern as the dangerous options patients have for relief. Patients with chronic pain often report symptoms of depression and even suicidal thoughts, which makes the physical and emotional benefits of cannabis all the more attractive to them.

Apart from medicinal reasons which are leading to the uptick in cannabis use among the elderly, some seniors use cannabis for a nostalgic return (or continuation) of earlier cannabis experiences – in other words, recreational. For many others, though, their first experiences with the effects of cannabis have come later in life and as public sentiment surrounding the plant and its uses has shifted and become legally accessible.

Medical cannabis is more than simply present in assisted living facilities, though—the benefits provided to residents are so clearly documented and broadly accepted in the medical community that many nursing homes now have dedicated medical marijuana policies and programs. Facilities in states like Washington, Colorado, California, and New York offer their residents medical marijuana options so as to reduce the dependence on dangerous opioid painkillers.

A grandmother of six, Anita Mataraso, 72, told The Times, “I would be in a lot worse shape if I wasn’t using cannabis, both physically and mentally.” Mataraso is the medical marijuana education and support club program director – an initiative created by the residents of her retirement community east in San Francisco. She uses marijuana daily for various ailments, including arthritis and nerve pain.

Even with the increase in cannabis education and awareness, a significant amount of misinformation remains regarding medical cannabis benefits to elderly patients. Many assisted living residents do not understand the different forms and options available to them for medical cannabis, or even that there are different uses for different parts of the plant.

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For instance, while cannabis absolutely can get the user high, there are many cannabis products with medical benefits that do not contain THC, the psychoactive component to marijuana. These products instead emphasize CBD, which has been demonstrated to help alleviate anxiety, sleeplessness, joint pain, and stimulates appetite without bearing any psychoactive effects.

The takeaway is that patients have options regarding how they ingest cannabis products. While one can, of course, smoke marijuana, there are also cannabis products that come in edible, tincture, pill-form, and more. There are even products and topical creams for muscle and joint soreness. All of these options carry specific benefits and relief without requiring the patient to inhale combustible smoke or vapor.

In the end, the rise of medical marijuana in assisted living facilities is a trend that is sure to continue. Marijuana products are becoming more and more available and as the public’s point of view softens towards medicinal and recreational use, residents of senior living facilities are leading the way.

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