CBD, one of many compounds found in cannabis, can be used therapeutically for a wide variety of symptoms affecting mind and body. Its most common uses include help for anxiety, inflammation, pain, insomnia, and other sleep issues. Lesser known benefits of CBD include supporting bone health, controlling epileptic seizures, easing the symptoms of glaucoma, slowing the progression of dementia, and stimulating appetite. Some people who use CBD are even able to depend less heavily on pharmaceuticals.
Cannabis educator and industry consultant Emma Chasen says that for seniors, “CBD is a great compound to introduce first due to its very limited psychotropic effects and almost-unheard-of uncomfortable side effects.” In other words, the many benefits of CBD can be had without the “high” associated with THC.
Because those aged 60 and up suffer in the highest numbers from the conditions CBD can treat, it should not be surprising that seniors are the fastest growing demographic to be using cannabis. Dr. Mikhail Kogan, a geriatrician and medical director for George Washington Center for Integrative Medicine in the District of Columbia, sees growing interest in CBD among senior patients. CBD, he says, is helpful for those suffering from the common symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. Though human studies are still needed, he states that preclinical data shows CBD’s anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory benefits. Plus, Dr. Kogan says, it’s exponentially safer than opiates.
Martin Lee, co-founder and director of the California nonprofit organization Project CBD and author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, says that because many seniors today are baby boomers who came of age during the ‘60s, they may have “sufficient experience,” with cannabis dating from their youth. However, there are “others encountering it for the first time who might be dealing with some taboos or concerns.” For that group, says Lee, “Topicals can break the ice.” A positive experience with a topical can provide “a very easy, very non-threatening way to get into the world of cannabis therapy.”
Although human studies are still limited, a 2016 study on rats showed that topical CBD reduces joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis. Many people find that CBD topicals also relieve pain from muscle soreness or muscle injuries, plantar fasciitis, and headaches. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, the right topical CBD product can be helpful for certain skin conditions like itchiness, acne, flaky skin, and bug bites.
Earl LeMond, owner and operator of Paradise Organics in Newburgh, Indiana, sells topicals to people with temporary, localized pain. “If you’ve pulled a muscle, hurt yourself, or have something very particular going on, then CBD topicals are helpful,” he says. But for those with more generalized pain, such as that caused by osteoarthritis, he says that ingesting CBD oil in conjunction with applying topicals seems to work better.
Increasing mainstream acceptance
LeMond finds that younger and older customers alike are increasingly comfortable with ingesting some form of CBD. Medical marijuana, including any product containing more than .3 percent THC, is not yet legal in Indiana. However, he finds that in the short period of time that CBD has been officially legal, “nearly everyone has heard something positive about it.” Local news coverage has increased awareness, but word of mouth, says LeMond, contributes the most. “When you have someone who’s taken it successfully, you’ll find them talking about it.” Just over a year ago, he says that few of his customers knew about CBD. Today he refers to a “whirlwind” of interest in its uses and benefits. “I sell more CBD than anything else right now,” LeMond says.
Dr. Kogan agrees that stigmas and taboos are lessening, and for that reason—as well as its legal medical status in the District of Columbia—he recommends a combination of CBD and THC products to senior patients when their condition indicates it. “We have so much data now on the safety of medical cannabis containing THC that it is not really a big issue. I simply use what is most appropriate for a given patient.”
Lee, based in California, says that many seniors he’s worked with do eventually try other cannabinoids. “CBD and THC work better together than apart,” he says, citing what is often called the entourage effect. For many seniors’ health needs, “a full-spectrum product is going to be even more effective.”
Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., a drug policy reformer who has taught at UC Berkeley and currently serves as VP of Community Relations for cannabis company Flow Kana, says that when it comes to seniors, “because it addresses a myriad of issues, reduces dependence on pharmaceuticals, and lessens the risk of dependence and accidental overdose, cannabis is perfect for this stage of life.”
Sidebar: My Personal story
I have found CBD topicals as the perfect entry point to a wider range of health-supporting cannabis therapy. Full disclosure: I am not a senior, but a 39-year old mother of two who’s been using topical CBD on the bottom of my feet to relieve chronic pain from plantar fasciitis for over a year. Before turning to topical CBD, I tried different shoes and special inserts, stretches tailored for my condition, as well as massage—but nothing relieved the pain and inflammation like topical CBD. When I use it regularly, the condition hardly impacts my life. When I forget to replenish my supply, I’m hobbled with pain, limping from couch to chair to bed.
In time, I became interested in taking CBD oil internally to help relieve anxiety and difficulty staying asleep. This, too, has proved effective. More recently, I’ve begun to expand my interest to tinctures and flower containing low levels of THC, both for therapeutic and relaxation purposes. It makes a lot of sense that others might follow a similar trajectory, and that CBD topicals can provide a low-risk entry point for those who can benefit from its use.
Danielle Simone Brand is a mother of two, a die-hard idealist, and a breaker of conventions. She holds a BA from Dartmouth College and an MA from American University and has worked as a staff writer, an academic editor, and a researcher on issues of international conflict resolution.