By Jessica Scarpati –
As the ever-quotable Bette Davis once said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” No matter how young a person feels on the inside, all the mileage their body has accumulated by midlife starts to take its toll. From aching backs to sleepless nights, older adults are no strangers to health complaints. Not surprisingly, more than half of Americans over age 65 take four or more prescription drugs to manage them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s little wonder then that CBD-based products—which claim to offer more natural relief from many health problems that vex older adults—are having a moment. In fact, nearly one in five Americans age 50 and up say they have used CBD products, according to a 2019 Gallup poll. The most common reasons across all age groups for using CBD were to treat pain (40 percent), anxiety (20 percent), sleep issues (11 percent) and arthritis (8 percent).
In another poll conducted by Remedy Review, 89 percent of people age 54 and up who have tried CBD products said they would recommend them to a friend.
While Gallup reports that usage is higher among younger people, CBD obviously is a hot commodity among the mature set and it’s probably getting warmer all the time. But is it a cure-all for what ails older individuals and are there any risks involved? Anecdotal evidence abounds, along with some clinical evidence, to support the notion that CBD has curative powers. Beyond this, risks associated with CBD consumption appear to be low, especially for reasonably healthy individuals. But this doesn’t mean that CBD can or will tackle all a person’s ills. The research is still coming in and the market is wide open.
Going deeper into the market first requires a review of the ABCs of CBD. Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a chemical acquired from cannabis—a family of plants that also produce marijuana. However, there’s an important distinction between the recreational drug and the drugstore variety. Commercially available CBD products evoke the cannabis plant’s many therapeutic benefits but don’t trigger intoxication because they contain only trace amounts of another chemical, THC, which is what causes someone who uses marijuana to get someone high.
Since being legalized in late 2018, CBD products have burst onto the market in droves and with big promises. They also come in a dizzying array of formats—creams, oils, edibles, salves and more—and can now be found everywhere from boutique online shops to your local CVS.
Although some products may be marketed specifically to seniors on their packaging, it’s just that—marketing. Choosing the right CBD product is more about identifying what problem is to be solved. Of course, mature individuals tend to have a common list of ailments. A Consumer Reports survey notes that younger people more often gravitated toward CBD products to address stress and anxiety issues compared to their older counterparts, while three times the number of mature users look to CBD products to deal with pain than do younger people.
For aching joints or skin problems, for example, a topical lotion or cream rubbed directly on the affected area will quickly be absorbed by the skin, which contains cannabinoid receptors, and theoretically deliver relief in minutes. For more systemic health issues, such as anxiety or insomnia, a drop of CBD under the tongue or chewable CBD gummies reportedly work best and can provide slower-release, sustained relief over several hours.
CBD products are generally safe for most people, but those taking prescription medications (think older people especially) need to be cautious and consult with their doctor before usage. At issue is that CBD is known to affect how the liver breaks down some medications.
The greater issue facing consumers is the inherent unpredictability of CBD products.
“In my practice, I’ve seen people have amazing responses to cannabis. I’ve seen people have zero response. And I also have seen people have negative responses,” Dr. Rhonda Collins recently told Canada’s CBC News. “Like any other drug that we use, any medication that we use—Tylenol, Ibuprofen, you name it—what works for you may not work for me.”
The other challenge facing CBD users is the very open nature of the market. While CBD is legal, it remains largely unregulated. This has led some CBD producers to make outlandish claims about their product’s ability to deal with problems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tried to curtail any unreasonable hype by going after these producers. Nonetheless, consumers need to stay vigilant and do their own due diligence, cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access warned in its 2019 Patient’s Guide to CBD.
“Generally, reputable producers will provide Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) from independent and properly certified testing laboratories for all of their products. CoAs show the amount and concentration of major cannabinoids and terpenes present in the tested sample, as well as testing data regarding the lack or presence of microbial and fungal contaminants, levels of heavy metals, and measures of pesticide and solvent residues,” according to the report. “Consumers should not purchase cannabis-derived products from companies that cannot or will not provide product- and batch-specific CoAs.”
Unfortunately, until stringent regulations are in place, consumers remain at the mercy of CBD manufacturers, Marcel Bonn-Miller, a psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, told WebMD.
“It really is the Wild West,” Bonn-Miller said. “Joe Bob who starts up a CBD company could say whatever the hell he wants on a label and sell it to people.”