More on Cannabis and Seniors - New Study Suggests Link to Cardiovascular Events
By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
Last week, a new study was released that found a potential link between marijuana use and cardiac events. However, before delving into this topic, it's important to examine the prevalence of cannabis use among seniors.
According to professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III, there has been a significant increase in marijuana use among Americans aged sixty-five and above. "The recently conducted federal survey on drug use revealed that the proportion of older adults who reported using cannabis has almost tripled in the past decade, rising from 11 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2019. Moreover, the survey uncovered that over half of the 60-64 age group reported cannabis consumption, indicating a sharp increase in usage rates among this demographic," he said.
The latest survey conducted in 2021 revealed that cannabis consumption among older adults has reached 35 percent. However, researchers have noted that the survey methodology was impacted by the pandemic, which could potentially have skewed the results. Despite this, the findings of the survey highlight a trend of increasing cannabis use among older Americans that is worth noting and further investigation.
"We know the use of cannabis is widespread, with over 200 million individuals worldwide using it," Attorney Connelly continued. "However, the adverse effects associated with cannabis usage can have significant implications. Cannabis use disorder affects 27% - 34% of cannabis users and has, therefore, become a significant public health concern, especially given the lack of treatments and limited access to behavioral interventions."
Cannabis sativa is a complex plant that contains over five hundred different chemical compounds, with the most well-known being delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While the term "cannabis" covers any product derived from the plant, "marijuana" refers to the parts of the plant that contain prominent levels of THC, the psychoactive component responsible for producing the drug's mind-altering effects.
According to the Yale School of Medicine, the THC content in cannabis has undergone a significant increase. In 1995, the average THC content in cannabis seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration was approximately 4%. However, the levels have been rising steadily, with a 2017 study showing an average THC content of 17%. Furthermore, an extensive range of other cannabis products, such as dabs, oils, and edibles, are available, with some containing significantly higher levels of THC.
"High THC levels can be harmful to health and can cause adverse effects on the human body," stated Attorney Connelly. "Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the THC content in cannabis products when using them for recreational or medical purposes, and this is especially true for older adults who may be using this product without the knowledge or guidance of a healthcare professional."
Effects on the Elderly Body
As we age, our body undergoes various changes that can have an impact on how cannabis components such as THC and CBD are processed in the body. For instance, reduced kidney function can affect the way drugs, including cannabis, are metabolized and eliminated from the body. Smoking or vaping cannabis can worsen symptoms of poor lung health or disease. Additionally, the digestive system slows down, and liver function is reduced, which can affect how the body processes and eliminates cannabis. Muscles, bones, and sensory functions, including vision, hearing, and smell, also undergo changes as we age, increasing the risk of falls or injuries. Furthermore, the impact of THC on cognitive and motor functions could lead to a higher risk of accidents or injuries, making its use more impairing than just CBD products.
Increased ER Visits
The issue of older patients having to visit the emergency room after using marijuana products has been studied by researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). According to their findings, there has been a significant increase in the number of cannabis-related ER visits by older patients over the last two decades. To put it into perspective, the number of ER visits by people aged sixty-five and above was only 366 in 2005 but dramatically went up to 12,167 in 2019. This is a relative increase of 1,808%.
The reason behind these findings is that older patients using marijuana or related products are more prone to adverse reactions due to a combination of factors such as greater sensitivity and being unfamiliar with newer forms of the drug.
The researchers identified some of the common adverse effects experienced by older patients, which include dizziness and falls, heart palpitations, panic attacks, confusion, anxiety, or worsening of underlying lung diseases, such as asthma or COPD. In rare cases, the use of marijuana has been associated with a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), which causes cyclic vomiting.
The study emphasizes that older adults are at a higher risk of experiencing adverse reactions to cannabis and related products. Thus, it is essential to educate them about the potential risks and benefits of using marijuana to manage their medical conditions. Healthcare providers should also consider the patient's age, overall health, and history of drug use when prescribing medical marijuana or recommending cannabis use to older patients.
More About CHS
Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is a medical condition that is caused by long-term use of marijuana. It is a debilitating condition characterized by recurring episodes of nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and abdominal pain, which often lead to frequent visits to the emergency department.
Cannabinoids, from using cannabis products, bind to cannabinoid receptors that are present in our gastrointestinal tracts, brains, and immune cells. The most extensively studied exogenous cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabigerol (CBG).
It is important to note that CHS is not merely a side effect of marijuana use but a serious medical condition that can lead to health complications if left untreated. People who use marijuana chronically are at a higher risk of developing this condition. Typically, it tends to occur in individuals who use marijuana at least once a week and is more common in adults who have been using marijuana since their adolescent years. In nearly all cases, there is a delay of several years in the onset of symptoms, preceded by chronic marijuana misuse.
The exact cause of CHS is not known, but some researchers believe that genetics may play a role. Others believe that CHS may occur due to overstimulation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a network of receptors in the body that responds to compounds in marijuana. More research is needed to understand the mechanisms of CHS and to develop effective treatments for this condition.
Those who may be experiencing these symptoms and are chronic marijuana users need to share this information with their healthcare provider, who may not be familiar with CHS.
Study Ties Cannabis Use to Cardiac Issues
A study published in Addiction on September 23, 2023, evaluated the associations of cannabis use disorder (CUD) with cardiovascular disease (CVD) outcomes. This study explored the relationship between cannabis usage and CVD, which is less explored and documented in research. The study found that young cannabis users have an increased rate of cardiovascular events, which is a severe concern. Cannabis use has been linked to severe events like stroke, myocardial infarction, arrhythmias, atherosclerosis, and cardiomyopathies.
Adults with CUD exhibited a 60% increased risk of an adverse CVD event than their age- and sex-matched controls. The findings suggest an elevated risk of CVD events among healthy subjects without medical/medication history if they have CUD. While the study could not causally link the higher risk to CUD, it highlights the higher risk of CVD events in CUD individuals. Additionally, the study found that cannabis use may elevate CVD risks in otherwise healthy subjects, which is a cause for concern.
The study also revealed that the analysis did not include a direct measure of the amount of cannabis used. Instead, it relied on the number of CUD diagnosis codes as a proxy for CUD severity. Therefore, further studies should explore the relationship between cannabis amounts and CVD events.
"The study findings placed emphasis on the significance of educating patients regarding the potential risks that come with cannabis use and cannabis use disorder," stated Attorney Connelly. "Although the study did not provide conclusive evidence that CUD causes cardiovascular disease, it underscored the necessity for further research in this field to gain a better comprehension of the link between cannabis use and CVD consequences."