CBD and Seniors

WRITTEN BY MADISON SCHMIDT AND DR. SWATHI

This article provides an overview of how CBD could be an emerging treatment option for the elderly.

What are the benefits of CBD for seniors?

Cannabidiol (CBD) has many potential benefits in adults of all ages including seniors. For instance, CBD may have sleep promoting, pain relieving, and anxiolytic properties (1-3). One reason this is particularly beneficial to seniors relates to other prescription medications used for these disorders. While effective, some of the medications used to treat sleep disorders, pain, and anxiety also leave older adults at higher risk for medical complications. This may include an increased risk of side effects, falls, etc. (4).

Even though some of these prescriptions may carry risk in older adults, sometimes it may be the only medication that could control pain or anxiety leading to their use in practice. However, alternative options that pose less risk would be preferred. While the risks of CBD in older adults have not yet clearly been defined, CBD shows the potential to decrease the use and mitigate the risk of certain prescriptions, like opioids.  

How does CBD relate to the opioid epidemic?

While many prescription drugs have their place in medicine, some carry more risks than others. A prime example being opioids, as we are currently still in an opioid epidemic across the world. Something most people may not realize though is that another class of medications is also contributing to the epidemic–benzodiazepines such as Xanax (alprazolam) or Klonopin (clonazepam), contribute to the opioid epidemic as they are involved in some instances of overdose (5,6).

Opioids and benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for pain and anxiety respectively. It should be noted that there is less data existing on CBD compared to opioids and benzodiazepines, but of the published data, CBD does not pose the same risk of overdose as opioids and benzodiazepines. To this date, not one person has died of a cannabis overdose. The reason for this is because CBD acts mostly on cannabinoid receptors which cannot lead to an overdose. Whereas opioids and benzodiazepines work on opioid receptors and other central receptors that modulate respiratory rate ultimately leading to an overdose if the dose taken is too high (7).

Is CBD safe for seniors?

Safety data on CBD is limited especially in seniors. The most reputable safety data for CBD has been derived from trials of the prescription CBD formulation, Epidiolex. Epidiolex or cannabidiol was approved for use in rare seizure disorders in children and adults in 2018.  It should be noted that the dosing utilized in the Epidiolex trials was much higher than most over the counter products. Therefore, side effects from this study cannot be easily compared to the general public interested in using CBD over the counter. However, since the doses used in over the counter preparations are much lower than the doses studied in these trials, it is anticipated there would be less side effects such as gastrointestinal disturbances, skin irritation, and decreased appetite (8).

Should I take CBD as a senior?

Overall there are many potential benefits of utilizing CBD. Talk with your pharmacist or doctor to see if CBD is appropriate for you or your loved one.

  1. Babson KA, Sottile J, Morabito D. Cannabis, cannabinoids, and sleep: a review of the literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017 Apr;19(4):23.
  2. Boyaji S, Merkow J, Elman RNM, Kaye AD, Yong RJ, Urman RD. The role of cannabidiol (CBD) in chronic pain management: an assessment of current evidence. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2020 Jan 24;24(2):4.
  3. García-Gutiérrez MS, Navarrete F, Gasparyan A, Austrich-Olivares A, Sala F, Manzanares J. Cannabidiol: a potential new alternative for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and psychotic disorders. Biomolecules. 2020 Nov 19;10(11):1575. 
  4. American Geriatrics Society 2019 Updated AGS Beers Criteria® for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults Update Expert Panel. J Am Geriatr Soc. 00:1– 21, 2019.
  5. Drug overdose. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 20 Aug 2021.
  6. Opioids. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 17 March 2021.
  7. Iffland K, Grotenhermen F. An update on safety and side effects of cannabidiol: a review of clinical data and relevant animal studies. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017; 2(1): 139–154.
  8. Epidiolex (Package Insert) Greenwich Biosciences, Inc., Carlsbad, CA, 2018

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This article was edited by Dr. Swathi and was written by Element Apothec Scientific Communications Intern, Madison Schmidt. She is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy in Edwardsville, Illinois.

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