Despite the stereotype of marijuana users as burned-out teens munching on Doritos, today, the fastest growing demographic of cannabis users is actually baby boomers and senior citizens. This increase of use is for good reason—cannabis has proven itself to be a powerful weapon against the ravages of age.
The world’s oldest woman, Fulla Nayak, who passed away at the ripe old age of 125, credited her longevity to daily use of ganja and palm leaf wine, common in her native India. Not only did Nayak live a long life, she was relatively healthy right up until the end, complaining only of weakening eyesight. Nayak could stand and walk on her own until the day she passed away, with an occasional cold being her most serious medical condition.
Unfortunately, not all of us were born with Fulla Nayak’s incredible genes. Nonetheless, we can learn a lesson from her habitual cannabis use. Here are 10 compelling reasons why you, your parents and your grandparents should consider adding cannabis to a healthy routine of good diet and exercise.
1. Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention and Treatment
Alzheimer’s Disease, a progressive illness that affects over 5 million Americans each year, is characterized by dementia and loss of mental capacity. As the baby boomer generation grows older, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is expected to reach 16 million by 2050.
Cannabis holds promise in treating Alzheimer’s disease by slowing its progression, reducing inflammation and helping to alleviate symptoms like anxiety and depression. It has even been shown to help generate new brain cell growth. More importantly, marijuana might actually prevent cases of Alzheimer’s disease from ever happening in the first place.
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, discovered that the THC molecule can directly impact Alzheimer’s disease pathology by inhibiting the enzymes responsible for the forming of amyloid plaque, the primary pathological marker for Alzheimer’s. If the plaque never forms, Alzheimer's disease does not develop.
It’s not just THC either. Cannabidiol (CBD), the most prominent non-psychoactive cannabinoid, also seems to help both by inducing new brain cell growth, as well as by reducing inflammation—an important discovery since scientists are exploring the link between neuroinflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Cancer Prevention and Treatment
No other disease strikes fear into the hearts of humans like the "Big C" (cancer), but another "Big C" (cannabis) may help prevent it, as well as fight it.
Medical research from around the globe, in laboratory, animal and/or human studies and trials, show positive results and potential in treating brain tumors, lymphomas and cancers affecting the breast, prostate, lung, uterus, cervix, mouth, colon, biliary tract, thyroid, pancreas, skin and more.
A 2009 study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research found that long term, moderate marijuana smokers have 48 percent lower incidences of head and neck cancers than those who abstain. So while you’re having fun getting high, it looks like you’re also reducing your chance of developing certain cancers.
What about people already facing a cancer diagnosis?
To be sure, more research is needed to determine how to best use cannabis as a cancer treatment, but for now, we know cannabis fights cancer in four important ways. It prevents the formation of blood vessels necessary for tumor growth. It stops cancerous cells from reproducing and prevents them from spreading to other organs. Cannabis also selectively induces cancer cells to die off naturally (a process known as apoptosis), unlike traditional treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy that kill cancer cells along with all the healthy cells surrounding them, debilitating the patient in the process. Marijuana has the ability to target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.
3. Regulate Weight
Many seniors battle obesity and its associated health problems. Others have problems with decreasing appetite and have to fight to maintain a healthy body weight. Regardless of where you or your loved ones land on the dietary spectrum, cannabis can help.
Marijuana’s ability to stimulate the appetite is legendary. It has long been used to combat wasting syndrome in patients with chronic debilitating diseases, such as AIDS. It can also alleviate nausea and stimulate appetites in cancer patients suffering the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
On the other hand, marijuana also seems to help people slim down and maintain a healthy body weight. Stoner lore abounds with tales of marijuana induced “munchies,” but researchers have found that despite consuming more calories overall, marijuana users have smaller waist circumferences (1 1/2 inches smaller on average), have higher levels of HDL cholesterol that lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and are less likely to develop Type II diabetes than those who pass on grass.
4. Arthritis Pain Relief
One out of every five adults experiences some sort of arthritis pain, which is no surprise since the disease includes more than 100 rheumatic conditions. A recent Chinese study found that arthritic joints have an unusually high number of CB2 receptors ,which cannabis can activate to fight inflammation and pain. New research is currently underway at Dalhousie University in Halifax to discover how marijuana relieves arthritis pain both at the joint and in the brain. The study, funded by the Arthritis Society, hopes to determine if cannabis might actually help heal arthritic joints.
Aside from ingesting marijuana, topical salves and ointments are also known to relieve arthritis pain. Since cannabinoids are absorbed through the skin, these remedies can provide powerful relief, without the high of smoking.
5. Alleviate Depression
Depression is a common symptom of aging, and marijuana provides a powerful weapon against it.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that patients with chronic stress induced depression had decreased levels of endocannabinoids—the body’s natural cannabis-like compounds. The theory is that this deficiency can be balanced by ingesting phytocannabinoids from marijuana, thereby balancing mood and alleviating depression.
6. Insomnia Treatment
Insomnia is more common in seniors, with over 60 percent regularly experiencing trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. While there are many pharmaceutical pills on the market to help, cannabis can often do the job better without unwanted side effects.
Try a mellow indica or a high CBD strain before bedtime, and stop counting sheep. Edibles are also highly effective at promoting restful sleep.
7. Osteoporosis Prevention
Osteoporosis is the most common age related bone disease. Scientists found that the body’s endocannabinoid system plays an important part in regular bone growth and density, especially through CB1 receptors in bone tissue.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that CB1 receptors regulate peak bone mass and protect against age-related bone loss. These are early animal studies, so more research is needed, but it seems cannabis holds great potential in preventing and treating osteoporosis and other bone maladies.
8. Powerful Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant
At the biological level, all the ravages of aging can be attributed to inflammation and the effects of free radicals, both of which can be effectively combated by supplementing a smoothly running endocannabinoid system.
Dr. Robert Melamede, one of the world’s foremost researchers on the subject, has said, “Nobody dies from being old, they die from age related illnesses. Cannabis is a very safe and effective medicine that's able to uniquely tap into our endocannabinoid system, that interestingly and ironically, regulates everything in our entire body."
According to Melamede, consuming essential fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids (endocannabinoid precursors), as well as cannabis, can increase endocannabinoid activity and reduce inflammatory related illnesses. Hemp is rich in fatty acids, making it an excellent nutritional supplement.
9. Reduce or Eliminate the Need for Dangerous Pharmaceutical Drugs
Most seniors take prescription drugs on a daily basis, but too many pharmaceutical drugs—even over-the-counter remedies—come with serious side effects. By comparison, non-toxic marijuana poses none.
In a lot of cases, cannabis can reduce or eliminate the need for other drugs. Even when prescriptions are required, studies show that marijuana can enhance the effects of many drugs, including opiates, thereby allowing patients to use fewer of their prescription pills to experience the same level of relief.
10. It’s Fun!
Too many older people struggle to find joy and excitement in everyday life. Cannabis tends to make people laugh, enhancing the senses so foods taste better, music sounds better, scents are more stimulating and colors seem brighter.
It also fosters social interactions, an important component of healthy aging. I can say from personal experience that some of the best pot parties I have attended took place at the nation’s largest senior living community, Laguna Woods in Southern California. Residents there regularly gather to sesh and share a special camaraderie that only comes with the sharing of ganja.
Florida medical marijuana activist Robert Platshorn founded The Silver Tour to teach seniors about the benefits of cannabis.
Cheri Sicard is the author of “Mary Jane, The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women (2015, Seal Press) and the editor of SeniorStoner.com.
(Photos Courtesy of The Silver Tour)