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Medical cannabis relieved pain, decreased opioid use in elderly



Medical cannabis is safe, effective, and may reduce opioid use in elderly patients with chronic medical conditions, results of a recent retrospective chart review suggest. Treatment with medical cannabis improved pain, sleep, anxiety, and neuropathy in patients aged 75 years of age and older, and was associated with reduced use of opioids in about one-third of cases, according to authors of the study, which will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

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“Our findings are promising and can help fuel further research into medical marijuana as an additional option for this group of people who often have chronic conditions,” said lead investigator Laszlo Mechtler, MD, of Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., in a news release. However, additional randomized, placebo-controlled studies are needed to confirm results of this study, Dr. Mechtler added.

The chart review focused on 204 elderly patients who participated in New York State’s medical marijuana program and were followed in a neurologic outpatient setting. The cohort included 129 female and 75 male patients, ranging in age from 75 to 102 years, with a mean age of 81 years. The medical marijuana was taken by mouth as a liquid extract tincture, capsule, or in an electronic vaporizer.

With an average exposure time of 16.8 weeks, 69% of patients experienced symptomatic benefit, according to patient self-report. The most commonly reported benefit was relief of chronic pain in 49%, while improvements in sleep, neuropathy, and anxiety were reported in 18%, 15%, and 10%, respectively. Reductions in opioid pain medication were noted in about one-third of cases, they found.

While 34% of patients had adverse effects on medical marijuana, only 21% reported adverse effects after cannabinoid doses were adjusted, investigators said. Adverse effects led to discontinuation of medical cannabis in seven patients, or 3.4% of the overall cohort. Somnolence, disequilibrium, and gastrointestinal disturbance were the most common adverse effects, occurring in 13%, 7%, and 7% of patients, respectively. Euphoria was reported in 3% of patients.

Among patients who had no reported adverse effects, the most commonly used formulation was a balanced 1:1 tincture of tetrahydrocannabinol to cannabidiol, investigators said.

Further trials could explore optimal dosing of medical cannabis in elderly patients and shed more light on adverse effects such as somnolence and disequilibrium, according to Dr. Mechtler and colleagues.

The study was supported by the Dent Family Foundation.

SOURCE: Bargnes V et al. AAN 2019, Abstract P4.1-014.

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