In the few years since New York’s passage of the Compassionate Care Act which legalized the use of medicinal marijuana in New York State, a growing number of older adults are turning to medical marijuana to help treat a number of serious and debilitating medical conditions and to improve their overall quality of life.
The Compassionate Care Act legalized the use of medical marijuana for individuals suffering from any one of the following qualifying conditions:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinal cord injury with spasticity
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Chronic pain
The law has expanded recently to include "any condition for which an opioid may be prescribed" and substance use disorder, signaling the law’s additional focus on addressing the opioid crisis. Unlike opioids, marijuana produces very few negative side effects, is not chemically addictive in the manner that opioids are, and does not lead to fatal overdoses. According to geriatricians, marijuana’s remarkable results in the treatment of seizure disorders, its use in increasing appetite as well as its ability to reduce and/or complement the use of painkillers can be especially helpful when treating the geriatric population.
Individuals wishing to utilize medical marijuana must be strictly compliant with state laws governing medical marijuana use at all times, including the proper storage and administration of products. Patients must annually obtain a marijuana treatment certification by a state-certified medical provider. Patients may also designate up to two caregivers, who must be registered with New York State, to assist them with procuring medical marijuana products, storage and administration. If a patient is residing in a hospital or nursing home, the health care facility needs to ensure that the patient is in compliance with the medical marijuana policies and protocols at the facility. In some cases, a health care facility may act as a designated caregiver for the individual, which enables facility staff to assist the patient in administering medical marijuana treatments in the event the patient is unable to do so themselves.
The use of medical marijuana is a personal choice, of course, but as the stigma fades, we are finding it growing in acceptance and popularity in both assisted living facilities and nursing homes across New York State.