Elder Q&A: Does medical marijuana really work?

Joan Hatem-Roy

Q: A friend recently mentioned in confidence her physician approved the use of medical marijuana to help with the severe pain she has been experiencing. She doesn't want other people to know she is using the pot because they may think less of her. Does this really work?

A: The use of marijuana for both medical and recreational use continues to be a controversial subject. Currently there are 33 states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana and 11 states where voters approved the recreational use of the substance.

Clearly we are not taking a stance on this subject but will provide as much information as we have been able to gather. There is some indication marijuana can be effective in treating glaucoma, Crohn's disease, cancer, eating disorders, nausea, pain and some mental health conditions. The list doesn't seem to have any connection between one and another so it sounds rather confusing. The correlation is how the chemical components interact within the body.

Additional studies will need to be conducted since much of this remains unproven to a great extent in the medical community. Testimonials have shown for some patients the therapeutic effect has been positive in reducing chronic pain, vomiting due to chemotherapy and spasticity from Multiple Sclerosis. One former colleague had severe side effects when taking strong medications for pain after a total knee replacement. Without the drugs physical therapy was not accomplishing any positive results. Her physical therapist had other patients who were making more progress when switched to medical marijuana and suggested this as something to consider.

In order for someone to purchase medical marijuana they must have the written recommendation from a licensed physician in a state where the usage is legal. A medical marijuana ID would be issued and the purchase needs to be made from a licensed dispensary. States vary on the amount that can be obtained at one time so it is important to be clear on the state regulations. Not every medical doctor is willing to participate.

Patients who use the medical version of marijuana may choose to smoke it (odor may be a concern), inhale it through a vaporizer, eat it, apply it to the skin (lotion, oil or cream) or put drops under the tongue. Patients also should be aware of potential side effects such as dizziness, fast heart beat, low blood pressure or hallucinations.

Anyone interested in pursuing this as a treatment option should have a conversation with their physician and do as much research on the topic as possible.

Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff are available for no cost consultations in the home, office or community. For additional information or to schedule an appointment call 1-800-892-0890. Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to ageinfo@esmv.org. or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley Inc., AgeInfo Department, 280 Merrimack St., Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley Inc. and North Shore Elder Services.