Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Don’t bogart that joint my friend, pass it over to Grandma Moses

The other day, I was talking with a friend whose mother is 95. Her mother is ready to go. She’s not only ready to go. She wants to go. Ninety-two was the last age when she felt good and enjoyed her life. That was about the time when one of her sons died, so there’s no surprise there. But now her life is a lot of aches, pains, and sadness. She’s ready. She’s not sitting around pissing and moaning. She’s a good-humored old Irish lady who’s still got all her marbles. Pain aside, she lives comfortably with one of her daughters, and enjoys the company and affection of her children and grandchildren. But she’s in pain most of the time (arthritis in her back), and the pain-killers aren’t killing her pain.

Then there’s my friend N, who’s in her late-eighties and is also ready to go. (She has told her friends that she anticipates that her death will be soon.) She doesn’t have any pain free days since a nightmare spill in which she broke her wrist. But they don’t want her to take anything too strong for the pain, fearing that she’ll become addicted. N isn’t afraid of becoming addicted. She’d just like the pain to let up while she runs out the last while of her life.

Last spring, my neighbor J died. He spent the last week or so of his life in a nursing home, but he was living at home (with a 24/7 home care aide the last couple of years) until his 99th birthday. But his last few years were pretty miserable. He was praying to die, and spent much of his day moaning. J went into a nursing home shortly after a couple of us heard a new tone in his moaning – it was beginning to sound physical, not existential. After speaking with his home care aide, I alerted J’s landlord, who called J’s West Coast daughter,the Visiting Nurses Association and the VA. They sprung into action and brought J to a nursing home, where his pain was better managed (so we heard) for his last few days.

Isn’t there a better way to manage the pain of the elderly? Well, since that could be me in a few short decades, I’ve got a vested interest in the answer here. So I’m delighted to hear that there is, in fact, a better way.

Medical marijuana is coming to the rescue.

One 98 year old in a NYC nursing home takes a little green pill full of cannabis oil.

Then Ms. [Ruth] Brunn, who has neuropathy, settles back in her wheelchair and waits for the jabbing pain in her shoulders, arms and hands to ebb.

“I don’t feel high or stoned,” she said. “All I know is I feel better when I take this.” (Source: NY Times)

Ms. Brunn, who has been able to stop taking morphine because of her use of marijuana, is not alone.

From retirement communities to nursing homes, older Americans are increasingly turning to marijuana for relief from aches and pains. Many have embraced it as an alternative to powerful drugs like morphine, saying that marijuana is less addictive, with fewer side effects.

It’s used for a lot of achy and pain-y problems: neuopathy, muscle spasms, Parkinson’s. Pot may also help with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Toking up, or popping a greenie, may be something new and weird for the older-elders, who came of age during the cigarette and good stiff drink era, but the boomers should be right at home when we start rolling in mass numbers into nursing homes. After all, rolling a joint is like riding a bicycle, isn’t it. (Do Zig-Zag papers still exist?)

There are both medical and legal concerns about elder use of marijuana.

Medically, there are some who believe that “marijuana could possibly make them [old folks] confused, dizzy or more likely to fall.” Not to be too cute about it, but they may already be confused, dizzy and more likely to fall than they used to be. Maybe toking up (or washing down) will help them relax and better cope with their pain. More research, please.

As for legal issues, while a lot of states have legalized marijuana, there are some concerns that the feds could crack down on it being dispensed in institutions that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments. Which would pretty much be most nursing homes, I would think. So far, it hasn’t happened, but you never know what can happen when there’s a new incumbent. Things could get bad enough for the old folks if mass deportations begin, given the population that provides a lot of the heart and muscle when it comes to elder care. I would hope that when the human element has been deported and replaced by robots, our elders will still be able to bliss out a bit, without the feds going haywire.

To get around the potential legal hurdles, some nursing homes are turning a blind eye to MJ use by their residents. They don’t help dispense it, but if someone’s using, they take a more or less ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach.

Like pretty much everyone else I know, I want to die in my sleep the day before (or the day after, at the very latest) I learn that I will be institutionalized and bed-ridden. But if medical marijuana can postpone that date, or – just in case I get stuck – make those final institutionalized, bed-ridden days a bit easier to withstand, well, don’t bogart that joint, my friend. Pass it over to me.



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