If you are an older adult using cannabis to treat chronic pain, you may very well experience no more cognitive deficiencies than someone who doesn’t use it.
That is the takeaway from a study conducted by Israeli researchers that was published late last month in Drug & Alcohol Review.
The study sought to assess “the relationship between long-term medical cannabis (MC) use and cognitive function in a sample of middle-aged and old chronic pain patients,” and researchers carried out the study by assessing 63 chronic pain patients aged 50 and older who have medical cannabis licenses and a comparison group of 62 who do not have such a license.
The researchers said they uncovered “no significant differences in cognitive function” between the two groups, noting that the “results suggest that use of whole plant [medical cannabis] does not have a widespread impact on cognition in older chronic pain patients.”
“Considering the increasing use of [medical cannabis] in older populations, this study could be a first step towards a better risk-benefit assessment of [medical cannabis] treatment in this population,” the researchers wrote. “Future studies are urgently needed to further clarify the implications of late-life cannabis use for brain health.”
“In this sample of individuals with neuropathic pain, no significant differences were found in cognitive performance between non-[medical cannabis] licensed and licensed patients, and evidence for lack of an association was stable and moderate,” the authors wrote, as quoted by a blog post at NORML. In addition, no significant associations of various aspects of [medical cannabis] use patterns, including THC/CBD concentration, frequency and length of use, dosage and length of abstinence with cognitive performance were detected. Moreover, both [medical cannabis] licensed and non-licensed patients performed relatively similar to a standardized population with no chronic pain.”
They added, as quoted by NORML: “More accepting public attitudes and policies related to cannabis use, in addition to increasing life expectancy, are expected to result in increasing numbers of middle- and old-aged individuals who use cannabis for long periods. Considering the accumulating evidence showing efficacy of cannabis use for multiple health conditions common in older individuals, the lack of adverse effects on the brain in the current sample of individuals with chronic pain who were older than 50 years can contribute to a better risk–benefit assessment of MC treatment in this population.”
Cannabis Benefitting Seniors
As legalization has been increasingly embraced both in the United States and abroad, there has been more research into the health effects of cannabis use—an area that had long suffered from a dearth of scholarly studies.
In August, a study conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Iowa found that medical cannabis had been shown to actually improve the lives of senior citizens, though the authors noted that they were “cautious about the generalizability of our findings.”
A separate study published this past summer found that patients suffering from chronic pain who use medical cannabis as treatment, along with pharmaceutical drugs, experienced reduced opioid consumption and fewer emergency room visits.