Several groups say cannabis can help older Americans manage pain

For the first time ever, more Americans use marijuana every day than those who drink alcohol every day.

So says the Society for the Study of Addiction.

One group that has seen a sharp increase in marijuana use is seniors over the age of 65. Many use the substance for ailments in place of prescription medications, but have difficulty accessing medical cannabis.

MORE AMERICANS SMOKE MARIJUANA DAILY THAN DRINK ALCOHOL, STUDY CLAIMS

“There is a very real psychopharmacology associated with cannabis, and I didn't learn about that in medical school,” says Dr. Zachary Palace, a certified geriatrician.

“As I started learning more about it, I realized it's a drug that can actually be used very safely in the geriatric population.”

Many older Americans use marijuana for ailments instead of prescription medications, but they struggle to access medical cannabis. That could change. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Palace features in a new video, along with other doctors, patients and politicians, from the Commonwealth Project. Howard Kessler is the founder of the initiative, which works to make medical marijuana more widely available, especially to seniors.

“Every day we make people suffer when they don't have to,” Kessler said.

Other doctors now specialize in cannabis treatment. Obstetrician Dr. Melanie Bone says she sees success every day when it comes to treating seniors with marijuana.

Patients say it helps them sleep, makes them feel less sleepy than other prescription medications – and has helped others stop taking morphine or opioids.

“Status quo was to not teach at all, or maybe do a lecture,” she said. “It's safe, it's effective.” Her patients say it helps them sleep, makes them feel less sleepy than other prescription medications, and has helped others stop taking morphine or opioids.

For forty years I've always had pain in something, and now I don't have it anymore,” said one of Dr. Bone.

Since the Nixon administration, cannabis has been legally designated as a Schedule 1 substance by the Drug Enforcement Association.

Cannabis flowers

A worker organizes cannabis flowers before the opening of the first legal recreational marijuana dispensary in the East Village of the Manhattan borough of New York City, December 29, 2022. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo)

“America's number one public enemy in the United States is drug abuse,” President Richard Nixon said in 1971 during a crackdown on drug abuse.

Other substances from list 1 are heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

“Schedule 1 says there is no medical use for this substance, and it is highly addictive and dangerous,” said Robert Kent, former White House general counsel for National Drug Control Policy.

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The classification is more restrictive than Schedule 2, which includes cocaine, fentanyl and meth.

Kent has contributed to the development of drug policy for almost twenty years. He worked as part of President Joe Biden's White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Schedule 3 means there is a medical use,” said former Massachusetts HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders.

The Health and Human Services Department first recommended marijuana rescheduling last August. The agency found that cannabis was used medically, but there were concerns about possible abuse or dependence on the substance.

“It's an important step toward reversing longstanding inequities,” President Joe Biden said as the Drug Enforcement Administration moved to reclassify the drug in May.

A DEA logo

A logo that reads DEA Special Agent is pictured at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office on May 29, 2019 in New York City. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

The DEA announcement was the last major hurdle to a realignment. The move will become official after the Office of Management and Budget signs off, followed by a public comment period.

Kent has contributed to the development of drug policy for almost twenty years. He worked as part of President Joe Biden's White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Everyone seems to be focused on commercial recreational marijuana. What I'm really hopeful about is that it will open the door for so much more research, and it will be much easier to do research,” Kent said.

“I am particularly interested in research where we can look at the use of cannabis and marijuana as an alternative to prescription opioids for the treatment of pain and other medical conditions.”

“I am particularly interested in research where we can look at the use of cannabis and marijuana as an alternative to prescription opioids for the treatment of pain and other medical conditions.”

Kent says some of the most promising benefits could be the reduction of overdoses.

'It's heartbreaking. Even [in] According to the most recent figures from the federal CDC, we are losing more than 100,000 people to prescription opioids every year,” Kent said.

Many seniors now use cannabis to treat chronic pain, nausea from cancer treatment, and other ailments.

Woman injured on the phone

Many seniors now use cannabis to treat chronic pain, nausea from cancer treatment, and other ailments. (iStock)

“Geriatric patients can very easily be on ten or more medications, and there is such a high risk of side effects,” Palace said. “The most impactful effect we saw was pain management. In most cases, they were able to eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of opioids they were using, and we saw no side effects.”

The Commonwealth Project proposes a large-scale demonstration model in the state of Massachusetts, equal to Medicare.

“The government takes full responsibility for the health care of people 65 and older,” Kessler said. “That's their job.”

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Throughout the study, major payers would provide guidance and education to healthcare providers, pay for approved cannabis therapies for people age 65 and older, and record the results.

“All it's going to do is validate, in a structured, observed and controlled way, what we already know,” said William Van-Faasen, former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts.

Kessler says the project could help tens of millions of people — but others say more evidence is needed.

marijuana in LA

A nonprofit cooperative medical marijuana dispenser showcases different types of marijuana available to patients in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

“I'm not sure that this reshuffling is a fact. Many people think it means research is coming out of the blue. I hope they're right. But I'm a bit skeptical because I think it will take money. More than anything, to make that research happen. And so far, biocompanies don't see marijuana as a super viable product,” said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

For more health articles, visit www.foxnews/health.

Sabet was an advisor to the Clinton, Obama and Bush administrations. His organization believes that cannabis should not be a substitute for medications until treatments are approved by the FDA.

“Maybe it's possible that the opioid companies don't want it. I think we're all open to it. Let's study it, but let's get the facts right now. Seventy-five percent of people think it's harmless,” says Sabet. said.

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“And they don't realize that it stays in your system for a while. It can cause these psychological problems.”

Some doctors say a recast could lead to more research and awareness about the benefits of cannabis.

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“I think the danger exists now because there are so many states where products are on the market,” Kent said.

“We all have to understand that there are seniors who are using — they're going to these pharmacies in states that have legalized the use. And so it's already happening. I think Howard's proposal would actually control it in a much more significant way.”

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