Seniors flock to CBD, but does it work?

By The Active Age | August 1, 2019

One afternoon last month, a 56-year-old woman walked into The Health Connection, a CBD shop on Douglas Avenue. Within minutes, she’d spent about $80 on a couple of cannabidiol products she’d never tried before but which she hoped would ease pain caused by arthritis.

“I work with two or three nurses who have used it,” the woman, who’s also a nurse and who asked not to be identified, said. “They said it helped, and my two sisters have used it.”

Similar scenes are playing out regularly across south central Kansas and the nation, thanks to the explosion of interest in CBD and the corresponding growth of outlets offering it. Nobody seems to know how many CBD retailers there are in this area. But counting shops where it’s the primary product, individual purveyors and businesses such as supermarkets and video stores that also carry it, the number is likely in the hundreds if not thousands. It’s also widely available online.

CBD is a substance found in marijuana and certain hemp plants that can affect receptors in the nervous system. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psycho-active substance in marijuana, it does not produce a “high” when ingested. According to a 2018 publication by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, clinical studies have suggested CBD has “broad therapeutic value.” The paper’s authors conducted a survey of 2,409 CBD users, most of whom were taking it for pain, anxiety, depression or sleep disorders. Almost 36 percent of respondents said CBD treated their condition “very well by itself, while 4.3 percent said it worked not very well.”

The paper noted that CBD is safe and does not lead to dependence or serious side effects but currently exists in a kind of legal limbo, being “generally deemed a controlled substance” (although not enforced) by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and “renounced as a dietary supplement” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Annual sales are expected to reach $1 billion, if they haven’t already.

CBD is sold in a variety of forms, from tinctures and edibles that are swallowed to creams and oils that are applied to the skin.

The active age talked to more than a dozen people who’ve used CBD and found them about equally split on whether it helped them. The products generally cost them about $30 to $60 a month. None reported adverse side effects.

Businesswoman Leisa Lowry said she and her husband, Daryl, began using CBD about a year ago. He applies a topical cream for back pain and has definitely felt relief – to the point where he can work out with a trainer, run and hike at age 71. Leisa used a peppermint spray to help with anxiety and says that feeling is gone, although she can’t conclusively credit CBD.

After buying 40 acres in the country and increasing their outdoor activity, which aggravated Bill’s arthritis and joint pain. Toni and Bill ReQua of Valley Center started using CBD oil they put under their tongues. 

“Once he started using the CBD oil, he could move better,” Toni said of her husband, who’s 71. “He’s not a 20-year-old by any means, but he does move better. He doesn’t get as stoved up as he would have.”

Asked how CBD affects her, Toni said, “I don’t get any feeling. Maybe a little bit of relaxation. It just kind of gives us more fluid movement.”

They are big enough believers in CBD’s future that they’ve planted some hemp on their property with the intention of selling it to a CBD producer.

State Sen. Mary Ware began using CBD while working for a shop that sold it. Today, she owns two American Shaman CBD shops in Wichita which are part of a national chain.

“I didn’t have any big issues that I can say it solved this or that but I do feel better,” she said. “I have fewer hot flashes, I have more energy, and I find that my appetite is getting in line with what my body actually needs. Instead of just wanting to eat because it’s meal time.”

Ware said seniors comprise a large portion of her clientele and pain, anxiety and sleep issues are the three most common areas for which they are seeking relief. Customers have also told her that it’s helped them with everything from diabetes to acne.

American Shaman has taken out full-page newspaper ads urging the public to let federal officials know that they don’t want CBD further restricted or regulated.

“This isn’t some fad, something that’s scary,” Ware said. “Every day ordinary folks are using it. Just in the time I’ve been involved, it went from doctors going ‘Oh, I don’t ‘know’ to there are quite a number of local doctors who endorse it and send patients to us and others who say ‘If it were me, I’d probably use it.’”

Another Wichitan, who asked not to be named, said he tried CBD products while searching for homeopathic remedies for colon cancer. A CBD product from Colorado, which contained a small amount of THC (marijuana is legal in Colorado), gave him some relief from nausea, although it did not treat his cancer. CBD products from Kansas had no effect at all, although he thinks some people convince themselves it does.

“If you think they’re going to help you, they probably will,” he said. “People’s expectations are so high now. They think it’s some kind of miracle drug.”

Guy Bower, a former pilot and now host of “The Good Life” radio show, said he tried CBD topical oil, pills and drops for knee pain. They “seemed to help a bit in the beginning but not much.”

Robin Rives McAdoo, a musician and collectibles dealer, said she tried two CBD products for arthritis pain but they “didn’t seem to have any effect on me.” A third product – green tea that contains CBD – seems to help ever so slightly.

“I think it makes me feel better versus the other two where I really wanted to but wasn’t feeling any difference.”

Despite her experience, McAdoo said she believes “there really are healing properties in CBD,” at least for some people. “I’m always inclined to go with a natural product.”

Lori Linenberger, who works for the Wichita State University Foundation, said she applied a topical CBD oil for two weeks to a pain in her hip, “with no noticeable relief.”

“I firmly believe it is bogus, a racket, hocus pocus, panacea.”

Dr. Allison Haynes, a second-year resident at the Smoky Hill Family Residency Program in Salina, recently made a presentation about CBD to medical colleagues. She got interested in the topic because “I was having a lot of patients ask me about it.”

Having reviewed research, she’s keeping an open mind about its value. “The short answer is there isn’t a ton of good information that tells us ‘Yes, this is great for this.’ We have things we think it is good for.”

“I’ve had a couple patients who have been really good candidates for it,” she continued, “(for) anxiety, traditional treatments that aren’t working on knee pain. I’ve also had patients where I said this might not be the best option for you. This interacts with other medications. It doesn’t operate in a vacuum.”

Noting that pharmacy inside the clinic where she works sells CBD products, she encourages people who want to try to “buy from reputable sources. Don’t buy it from you best friend’s neighbor’s car trunk.”

And she plans to keep up with ongoing research into CBD.

“It’s something that I as a new physician am not wanting to completely write off,” she said. “I do think there’s potential for it.”