Seniors hoping for new advances in pain relief just got a potential boon from Congress.
On Dec. 20, President Trump signed a new farm bill that legalized the production of hemp, a form of cannabis with lower levels of the psychoactive compound THC. Unlike marijuana, hemp won’t get users high. But another compound derived from hemp, cannabidiol or CBD for short, may be helpful in treating a range of maladies including anxiety and pain.
The bill establishes hemp as an agricultural commodity and permanently removes the plant from regulation as a controlled substance.
The farm bill should accelerate growth of hemp, an already burgeoning industry with hundreds of millions of dollars in market share, according to groups focused on the plan, including Vote Hemp and Hemp Business Journal. The bill establishes hemp as an agricultural commodity and permanently removes the plant from regulation as a controlled substance, as long as there’s no more than 0.3 percent THC in it. Some analysts forecast a $2 billion market for CBD; others see it at more than $20 billion, according to Bloomberg News.
So what does all this mean for seniors? Research on CBD is still in early stages, as it was effectively illegal in most situations until now. Only one form of CBD has been approved by the FDA, as a treatment for epilepsy. Still, a 2018 report by the World Health Organization suggests that CBD could also be used for other medical conditions that bedevil seniors, like aches and pains.
“So many people have arthritic pain, cancer pain, joint pain,” said Mary Furlong, a business strategist who helps clients including AARP and UnitedHealthcare navigate the longevity marketplace. “It’s a big topic.”
Looking for more research
Furlong hosts a number of events and summits each year on longevity, and the potential for CBD as a treatment for seniors was highlighted at her recent Washington Innovation Summit. She said she views the legalization of hemp as a catalyst for research.
“What I’m hoping is the farm bill makes it not only legal to grow nationally, but it will hopefully lead to more regulation around it, which is actually a good thing,” said Pat Campbell, COO of Mahatma Concentrates, which makes marijuana products. She also expects the bill to open up the market in the U.S. At the moment, many hemp suppliers get their product from China, she said.
The move may also provide simple reassurance for seniors, said Dr. Matthew Mintz, a Maryland-based primary care physician who spends much of his time providing certifications to patients who qualify for cannabis. Even though more than 30 states have legalized medical marijuana, it still has a stigma that scares away many would-be users among seniors, he said.
Mintz first learned about the benefits of cannabis treatments when a dispensary opened in his building. He now prescribes medical marijuana to about a quarter of his patients, and he said he sees a lot of potential in hemp.
“It has an anti-inflammatory agent, it’s very calming and acts as a natural anti-anxiety medication,” Mintz said.
Looking for easier access
“I would love for patients to be able to go to their pharmacy, the local CVS or GNC, and get CBD…They currently can’t do that.”
The farm bill should allow patients easier access to the product as more farms begin growing hemp, giving suppliers more options, Mintz said.
“I would love for patients to be able to go to their pharmacy, the local CVS or GNC, and get CBD,” he said. “They currently can’t do that.”
Campbell, 64, has seen the benefits of CBD up close. Her husband, Don, used it for pain relief while battling prostate cancer. After he passed away, Campbell decided to leave a long, successful career in publishing to jump into the medical marijuana industry. So two years ago, she moved to Denver from Florida and became COO of Mahatma.
Seniors can benefit from products ranging from oils to edibles, Campbell said. In Denver, at least, the focus until now has been too much on the 35-and-under market, she said.
“I’m looking at the 60 and older market, focusing on educating people on what CBD can do,” Campbell said. “I think it’s so important for the older population.”
CBD seems to already have a less intimidating image, which will only continue to soften with the legalization of hemp, Campbell said. As a Baby Boomer herself, she sees the need for the products and the potential for the market. “I’m hoping this will bring more legitimacy to CBD,” Campbell said.