According to the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the number of seniors aged 65 and over checking into ER’s in Ontario for cannabis poisoning has grown sharply over an eight year period.  This study has reported an ER visit rate of 5.8 per 100,000 pre legalization of cannabis.  This rate has since soared to 15.4 per 100,000 during the first phase of legalization and has risen again to 21.1 per 100,000 once edibles were legalized.

Many seniors who use cannabis coupled with other medications can experience negative effects or unintended drug interactions. Edible cannabis drug effects are delayed for approximately three hours. This delay has some seniors taking additional doses to try and reach the “high,” which results in “dose stacking” and is a major contributor to poisoning.

Our body’s ability to process drugs and substances changes as we age. Adults over 55 may be more sensitive to cannabis and have a higher risk of side effects. Serious side effects after using cannabis include seizure, paranoia, chest pain, hallucinations, severe headache, shortness of breath, rapid or irregular heartbeat, numbness or weakening of any body part and confusion or trouble speaking. If any of these side effects occur, stop using cannabis and contact a health professional.

The following steps will help to reduce the risk of experiencing side effects from cannabis:

  • Choose cannabis products with lower amounts of THC and equal or higher amounts of CBD.
  • Wait to see how your body reacts before ingesting more as it can take 3-4 hours to feel the effects.
  • Avoid mixing cannabis with other substances and medications

Cannabis use may cause several health effects on the body and the brain. Adults over age 55 may feel these effects more intensely due to:

  • age related changes in how the body responds to drugs,
  • existing health conditions,
  • use of medications, and
  • other health products.

Common Health effects of Cannabis for seniors include:

  • The Brain: anxiety, drowsiness, hallucinations, memory impairments
  • The Heart: increase heart rate, put extra stress on the heart
  • Blood Pressure: lower Blood Pressure causing fainting, dizziness, blurred vision, light-headedness
  • Liver: age can cause some changes in our liver function and the liver helps eliminate drugs/substances from the body. As a result, cannabis and other medications can stay longer in the senior body and increase risk of interaction and serious side effects.
  • Eyes: CBD may cause increased pressure in the eyes

While it has some definite health benefits, some cannabis products are much stronger these days and some are not regulated. Seniors are encouraged to start slowly and consult a health practitioner to avoid interactions and serious side effects when choosing to use cannabis products.

By Peter Yurek, BSc.Phm.