For a decade, Sanjay Gupta has been the bellwether for America’s understanding of cannabis. Is it safe? Is it good for us? Is it ok for children? How about seniors? With each episode in this ongoing series, Gupta’s opinions have shifted from anti to well, if not pro, then at least supportive. This has impacted the hearts and minds of voters and law makers. For example, no one had heard of Charlotte Figi or the Stanley Brothers before the original Weed special was broadcast, as she was just another child, among many worldwide, whose life was improved drastically by the availability of cannabinoid-based medicine. Once the original episode aired, CBD was touted as a medicinal compound separate from the demonized THC molecule that was said to be only for getting high. There was a failure to include the fact that the medicine these kids were taking also contained small, but necessary, amounts of THC. Without its presence, it just didn’t work as well. The media exposure was used by the Stanleys and their team to promote the message of CBD is good, and THC is bad. This began a cascade of events going from state to state and country to country selling this myth. Would there have been a Farm Bill that includes CBD without this?
The next Weed special highlighted the injustices and frustrations experienced by Dr. Sue Sisley as she attempted to study the effects of cannabis on PTSD experienced by veterans. The government-controlled crop available at the time for serious study was of poor quality (an understatement) and not reflective of what consumers were using to treat their conditions. There is no way to know if it was a direct result, however, after this showing, a shift occurred allowing licensed farmers to grow plants for the purpose of scientific investigation, no longer limiting scientists to the inferior Mississippi crops.
Jumping to the most recent special, which aired 6 August, Gupta directed his spotlight on the use of cannabis by seniors. Sue Taylor has been a vocal advocate for seniors, and has helped bring clarity to how to get started for many elderly consumers. We are grateful for her work, and hope she will continue for many years to come. Sue is the perfect example of when you know better you do better.
I listened to The Promise of Cannabis as We Age on Chasing Life, by Sanjay Gupta where he interviewed a nonagenarian who has found relief from his negative thoughts keeping him from sleeping peacefully. He also spoke with Dr. Aaron Greenstein, a geriatric psychiatrist who shared a personal story of his grandmother and her flashback moments to Auschwitz in her final weeks of life. The pharmaceuticals could not help for more than a few hours, and 5mg THC was the solution. When Greenstein was asked about recommending cannabis to seniors that were experiencing arthritis pain, he said if it was little enough pain that they enjoyed complaining about it with their friends, then cannabis was not warranted. He believes patients need to exhaust pharmaceutical options before chancing cannabis.
Now, I am clear that cannabis is not a panacea. It is not the best answer in some situations. However, for sleep and chronic pain there is not a better option on the market. If there are no dangerous drug-on-drug interactions, please tell me a pharmaceutical that works better for sleep and chronic pain. How about anxiety? These three diagnoses – or as I like to call them, the cannabis trifecta – are far better addressed with cannabinoids than pharmaceuticals. According to the CDC, 11.2% of seniors live with anxiety, 30.8% with chronic pain, and 50% have trouble getting to sleep or remaining asleep. These are significant percentages of our aging population. The reasons mentioned as to why Dr. Greenstein is hesitant to prescribe were outdated and show a lack of scientific inquiry. He says he doesn’t know how to dose it, and he does know how to dose prescription drugs. Really? Does one dose of Ambien work for everyone, or does it require titration? How about switching drugs from one to another when one fails? How many seniors have a medicine cabinet filled with half empty bottles from drugs that didn’t live up to their promise?
The bottom line is Sanjay Gupta has the power to sway many important minds. I wish he would have spoken with a doctor that has taken the time to read the preponderance of evidence supporting the value of cannabis in alleviating suffering in seniors. Do better.