Guide to CBD for Seniors

There are a lot of benefits to getting older: wisdom, retirement, more time to spend on hobbies, traveling, and with grandchildren. Unfortunately, the perks of old age are often accompanied by a host of health ailments, too, like arthritis, cancer, dementia, and new aches and pains.

To stay as healthy as possible and cope with their symptoms, many older people are on a daily regimen of various prescription drugs. According to the American Public Health Association, seniors aged 65 and up represent over a third of all prescription drug use in the United States—even though they only represent 12% of the population.

Prescription drugs, and many OTC drugs for that matter, have a lot of unpleasant side effects, like nausea, migraines, and fatigue. In an effort to improve their quality of life, and reduce the number of negative side effects they have to deal with, many seniors are turning to natural remedies to relieve their symptoms.

One increasingly popular option in cannabidiol, or CBD.

What Is CBD?

CBD is one of over 100 chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, found in the cannabis plant. These compounds share a similar structure to the endocannabinoids our own body produces in our endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system’s main role is to keep your body in a state of balance. It works with other systems in your body, like your digestive system and your immune system, to do this. It communicates with other systems—via cannabinoid receptors located throughout your central and peripheral nervous systems—to keep your temperature, mood, appetite, motor control, inflammation, and more all within a healthy range.

When you ingest cannabinoids like CBD, you boost your body’s own internal endocannabinoid numbers. When something is out of balance, such as an inflamed joint due to arthritis or an injury, this boost helps your endocannabinoid system better treat and relieve the issue.

Is CBD the Same as Marijuana?

Due to their particular chemical makeup, different cannabinoids have different effects on the human body. For instance, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is another cannabinoid. THC has a different molecular structure than CBD, which causes it to produce a psychoactive “high” when ingested by humans. CBD, on the other hand, has no psychoactive properties, so it aids the endocannabinoid system without creating a feeling of being high.

While CBD and THC can be found in anys train of the cannabis plant, significantly higher amounts of THC are found in marijuana. While some seniors may be prescribed medical marijuana, it’s not legal in every state, and some people don’t want to experience the “high.” CBD is a suitable alternative for these individuals, as it produces no high, and is 100% legal throughout the U.S. CBD is sourced from the hemp strain of cannabis, which contains significantly higher amounts of CBD, and only 0.3% THC or less.

Benefits of CBD for Seniors

Researchers are discovering new benefits to CBD all the time. The potential benefits of CBD are applicable to people of all ages. The benefits of CBD most relevant to seniors include its ability to relieve pain, insomnia, anxiety, and symptoms of multiple sclerosis and cancer.

CBD for Pain Management

Over half of American seniors report suffering from chronic pain in any given month. Some of this is due to old age, but many conditions become more prevalent later in life, such as musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, surgery, and chronic diseases like heart and renal disease. About a quarter of adults suffer from arthritis alone.

A wealth of studies have proven CBD to be an effective treatment for managing chronic pain, particularly pain due to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain.

  • A daily oral treatment of CBD proved effective in significantly reducing chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain in rats.
  • Beyond relieving the immediate symptoms, another study of rats showed that when taken over a long period of time, CBD can positively affect the way the brain perceives and responds to pain.  
  • The results in rats have been replicated in humans, too. A daily oral spray of CBD significantly lowered the pain for rheumatoid arthritis patients both at rest and during movement. It also improved their sleep quality.

For seniors living with chronic pain, a daily CBD regimen may relieve their pain, improve their mobility, and enable them to enjoy a higher quality of life overall.

CBD for Insomnia Relief

The neurons that regulate our sleep start to die off in old age. Even though we still need as much sleep as we did when we were younger, these changes to our sleep architecture cause us to wake up earlier as we enter old age. As a result, many seniors don’t feel well-rested—and the reality is, they’re not.

When seniors wake up too early, they spend less time in deep sleep and REM sleep, and more time less beneficial light sleep. Deep sleep and REM sleep are critical for restoring our physical and cognitive health, respectively, so the sleep deprivation seniors experience can impair their body’s ability to maintain good physical health, protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia, and keep their immune system functioning optimally.

Between 40% to 50% of seniors complain of insomnia or disturbed sleep, including:

  • Taking 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep on a regular basis
  • Waking up multiple times during the night
  • Waking up too early and being unable to fall back asleep
  • Feeling tired the next day as a result of poor sleep

The general sense of relaxation most people feel when taking CBD can be enough to help some seniors fall asleep. When it’s not, CBD can aid sleep by treating the underlying cause of their insomnia, such as pain or anxiety (two common contributors to insomnia).

In more serious cases of disordered sleep, studies have shown CBD’s ability to stabilize sleep patterns, relieve excessive daytime sleepiness, and reduce sleep apnea.

CBD for Anxiety Relief

While new diagnoses of anxiety in old age are relatively rare (about 3%), generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses affecting older adults. Anxiety can continue well into old age and worsen due to life changes, such as the death of friends or a partner, retirement and lack of work, and new health concerns.

Fortunately, CBD appears to activate 5-HT1A receptors, which are involved in the production of serotonin. This interaction produces an antidepressant-like effect, relieving feelings of anxiety and depression in the individual. Studies in mice have confirmed that CBD not only decreases anxiety, but it also facilitates social interaction—a hopeful finding given the importance social bonds play in reducing feelings of loneliness and depression among seniors.

A recent study of over 70 adults with anxiety and sleep problems found that within a month after starting CBD treatment, the anxiety scores decreased for nearly 80% of participants. Their sleep scores also improved, although to a lesser extent. Most promising, these effects were maintained over the course of the study:

study showing cbd decreases anxiety

CBD for Cancer-Related Symptoms

Old age itself is one of the major risk factors for cancer, with seniors representing 60% of new cancer diagnoses and 70% of cancer deaths. Cancer patients often live with daily pain, depression, sleep issues, and anxiety.

Typically, patients are prescribed chemotherapy to treat their cancer, and some form of pain medication to manage the pain. However, not all individuals respond adequately to pain treatment, and some of the drugs—like opioids—are highly addictive.

More problematically, nausea and vomiting are very common symptoms of chemotherapy. They can be so severe that up to 50% of cancer patients will quit or put off chemotherapy, significantly reducing their chances of survival.

CBD can lessen both the pain and nausea-related symptoms of cancer. In one study of cancer patients who were not responsive to traditional pain medication, CBD proved 30% more effective than opioids. In another study, CBD reduced instances of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in participants by nearly 50%.

CBD for Multiple Sclerosis

Most people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating autoimmune disease, sometime between 20 and 50 years of age. However, due to advances in healthcare, 90% of these individuals are expected to live nearly 40 years past their initial diagnosis. A quarter of these folks will live to 65 years of age or older, but they are most likely to have a reduced quality-of-life score, when compared to others with MS.

CBD’s antispasmodic effects can provide relief for these individuals. In one 2015 study, thirty MS patients were given an oral treatment of CBD for one month. At the end of the treatment period, the patients’ spasticity was significantly reduced.

Other Potential Benefits of CBD for Seniors

As we mentioned at the outset, the field of CBD research is constantly growing. While the research is in its early stages, studies indicate CBD may also prove beneficial for the following conditions that commonly affect seniors:

  • Parkinson’s disease: A daily regimen of CBD was shown to significantly improve quality-of-life scores among Parkinson’s disease patients with no comorbid psychiatric conditions or dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: Studies among mice with Alzheimer’s disease suggest CBD may have a neuroprotective effect against Alzheimer’s disease, reducing neuroinflammation, as well as the ability to reverse the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s.
  • Glaucoma: A low sublingual dose of CBD was found to significantly reduce intraocular pressure in a 2006 study, suggesting significant therapeutic benefits for glaucoma patients. However, a more recent study found that while THC reduced intraocular pressure, CBD actually raised it.
  • Drug addiction: Perhaps due to the large volume of prescription painkillers seniors are prescribed, the aging population is at increased risk of addiction, and it often goes undiagnosed. CBD can help these individuals recover, as it reduces the number of cravings for both heroin and cigarettes. (Importantly, studies show that the tolerance and risk for dependence with CBD is very low.)
  • Cardiovascular health: CBD may improve heart health among healthy individuals, as well as among those with diabetic and cardiovascular disorders.

How Seniors Can Use CBD Oil

CBD oil is available in a wide range of product types. All of them are equally effective. Which one a senior chooses depends mostly on their personal preference.

Sublingual tinctures

These describe CBD oils that come with a dropper, allowing the individual to place drops of the CBD beneath their tongue. Tinctures allow for precise dosing and effects are felt within 5 to 20 minutes.

Oral CBD products

These include CBD gummies, capsule, powders, and other edibles like chocolates or baked goods. CBD naturally has an earthy flavor that not everyone enjoys. CBD edibles often disguise this taste with other flavors, which is a major selling point for some. In the case of CBD capsules, there is no flavor, as these are swallowed just like any other pill. Many seniors prefer CBD capsules as it’s easy to remember to take them along with their other daily multivitamins.

However, oral CBD products have to travel through the digestive system first before entering the bloodstream, so it can take up to 90 minutes to feel the effects. You also often have to take a higher dose when consuming CBD orally (as some of the CBD is lost through the digestive process).

CBD topicals

CBD lotions, creams, and salves are applied topically to the skin. These products are best for treating pain, as they interact with local cannabinoid receptors to reduce pain or inflammation in the affected area. The effects are felt quickly with topical CBD products, within a handful of minutes.

CBD vape oils

CBD vape oils are inhaled through a vape pen, allowing the CBD to directly enter the bloodstream and begin working almost instantly. The effects will last about half as long with this method—only about 2 to 3 hours, as opposed to the 4 to 6 hours with other methods. However, many people like to vape CBD as they require acute relief for their symptoms, they find the act of inhalation relaxing, and they prefer the scented flavors of the vape oils over CBD’s natural earthiness.

CBD Oil Dosage for Elderly

Even though CBD has been federally legal as of 2018, it is not yet regulated by the FDA. As a result, there are no official dosing guidelines for CBD. However, most people have found that a dose of 1mg to 6mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of your body weight tends to be effective.

When starting CBD, it’s safest to start out with a lower dose, and gradually increase until you feel the desired effects.

Body WeightCBD Dose for Seniors
100 lbs10-60 mg
110 lbs11-66 mg
120 lbs12-72 mg
130 lbs13-78 mg
140 lbs14-84 mg
150 lbs15-90 mg
160 lbs16-96 mg
170 lbs17-102 mg
180 lbs18-108 mg
190 lbs19-114 mg
200 lbs20-120 mg
210 lbs21-126 mg
220 lbs22-132 mg
230 lbs23-138 mg
240 lbs24-144 mg
250 lbs25-150 mg
260 lbs26-156 mg
270 lbs27-162 mg

The amount of CBD will always be expressed on the bottle in milligrams (mg). The bottle will describe the total concentration of CBD in the bottle, as well as how much is in a serving size (such as 9mg for half a dropper).

Speaking with a doctor—ideally one well-versed in cannabis medicine—can be helpful here. They can advise you as to how much CBD you should take based on the severity of your condition, and whether they’ll need to adjust any of your other medications to ensure you avoid side effects.

Side Effects of CBD Seniors Should Know About

CBD is a non-addictive, non-psychoactive natural therapy many seniors can use to relieve various health ailments, from chronic pain to insomnia. CBD has shown to be very safe and well-tolerated, even in very high doses (up to 1,500 mg/day—significantly higher than any of the recommended doses above). Best of all, it provides relief with little to no side effects.

When first starting a CBD regimen, it’s possible that the individual may experience some tiredness or a general feeling of relaxation. Although extremely rare, the other, more severe side effects of CBD may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Changes in body weight or appetite

There are three risk groups who should avoid or use caution when taking CBD. These include children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people taking other medications. Since seniors are most likely to be in this third group, it’s important to speak with your doctor before starting CBD. It’s possible the CBD and your medication may interact negatively with each other.

Specifically, CBD can affect how the liver breaks down medications, which could produce adverse side effects depending on the prescription drugs you’re taking. Also, CBD may temporarily lower blood pressure. If this is a health concern for you, it may be safest to avoid using CBD.

How to Safely Buy CBD for Seniors

CBD is legal throughout the United States. However, as a newer industry that’s not yet regulated by the FDA, the onus is on consumers to do their research to ensure they’re buying a CBD product that’s not only safe, but will actually work. When shopping for CBD, seniors and caregivers should look for the following indicators of a safe, high-quality CBD product:

  • The product is pure CBD, free of synthetic or potentially toxic ingredients. CBD oils are significantly less likely to produce side effects when they contain pure CBD vs. synthetic CBD. Synthetic CBD products are also likelier to contain toxic ingredients.
  • The manufacturer sources their CBD from USA-grown, organic industrial hemp. Industrial hemp contains 0.3% THC or less, so the product will be legal no matter where you live, and won’t produce a high. Ideally, the manufacturer also uses a CO2 extraction process, which is very safe and effective at extracting consistent amounts of CBD.
  • They use a third-party lab to test their products, and are transparent about sharing those test results with customers. A third-party lab can accurately assess the concentration of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids in a CBD oil product. Reputable manufacturers will provide these test results either on their website or in the product packaging.
  • The label expresses the concentration of CBD or “hemp extract” in milligrams. This is particularly important if you’re trying to buy CBD on Amazon, where the sellers can get creative with their advertising. If the label does not clearly state the concentration of CBD, it may not actually be CBD. It’s probably hemp seed oil (which is good for your skin and digestive health, but does not provide the therapeutic benefits of CBD).
  • There are positive online reviews for the product on multiple websites. You can expect the manufacturer to include customer reviews on their website, but you should also be able to find similarly positive reviews on other websites or in online forums like the CBD subreddit, Senior Forums, Buzz50 Health Forum, and AgingCare Caregiver Forum. Pay particular attention to reviews from customers who used the CBD oil for a similar condition, or who identify as seniors themselves.

Does Medicare Pay for CBD?

At this time, Medicare does not cover CBD oil. However you may be able to get a better price for a CBD oil by shopping online and buying direct from the manufacturers. Purchasing straight from the manufacturer’s website is often the best way to enjoy the lowest price on CBD.

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