Cannabis In Nursing Homes

By: Kathleen McLean

As marijuana usage for medicinal purposes becomes more and more prevalent, a large percentage of the elderly community are starting to use it. Retirement homes are taking small steps in helping seniors have access to medicinal marijuana as an alternative to prescription drugs. However, it’s in some people’s opinions that these steps are not large enough.

State-run retirement homes are different that private retirement homes or assisted living. Many retirement homes have concerns about offering medicinal marijuana to treat various illnesses because of the money they receive from the federal government due to Medicare and Medicaid funding. Many nursing homes have taken the “don’t tell, don’t ask” approach, which creates safety concerns. Another obstacle is dosage. Marijuana research for the elderly is in it’s newest stages. Dr. Igor Grant, the director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Igor Grant, has added seniors as one of the center’s research priorities. He was quoted as saying, “Older people can be more sensitive to medicine,” he said. “It’s possible a dose safe for a 40-year-old may not be in an 80-year-old.”

One nursing home out of the Bronx is making headway but, their medical marijuana policy has been years in the making. The Hebrew Home in the Bronx developed a program that seeks to offer marijuana as an option but also comply with federal regulations: Though the nursing home recommends and monitors its use, residents are responsible for buying, storing and administering it themselves.

According to the United States Census Bureau, California has the largest number of elderly in the country. During the 20th century, the number of persons in the United States under age 65 has tripled. With that said, retirement homes will need to start taking a serious look at their policies regarding medical marijuana. The growing demand for change is going to happen hopefully, sooner than later. Morphine is one of the most common drugs prescribed for the elderly to manage pain. Mounting evidence indicates that marijuana may be more effective at treating pain than any other available drug, including opioids. Marijuana is certainly safer—it is not physically addictive, and there has never been any documented case of death due to marijuana overdose. Marijuana users do not build up a tolerance to the drug, (i.e. needing higher doses to achieve the same effect) the way that opioid users do.

Retirement homes making medical marijuana available for the people in their care may be much more appealing to families than the traditional home prescribing opioids for pain management.