July 15, 2019

More seniors want to try medical marijuana. This startup wants to help.

Daily Briefing

    The cannabis industry exists in a "grey area" that's made it difficult for researchers to examine the plant's potential medical benefits, but one company is seeking to bridge the gap by providing evidence-based medical cannabis treatment plans, Amanda Chicago Lewis reports for the Wall Street Journal.

    Medical marijuana: The hospital leader's to-do list

    The murky world of medical marijuana

    While marijuana use is more common among millennials than among older Americans, marijuana use is becoming more popular among seniors. The share of Americans over 65 who report cannabis use in the past year increased from 0.4% to 3% between 2006 and 2013, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Addiction.

    Further, as baby boomers age, older people are making up a growing share of marijuana consumers. Data from BDS Analytics, a market research firm for the cannabis industry, 18% of marijuana users are baby boomers.

    However, there's a dearth of clinical trials, and little FDA oversight, on "the quasi-legal" industry, Lewis reports. As a result, there are not any clear guidelines on what dosages and mixtures of cannabis compounds could be helpful for any given disease. The murky laws and lack of robust research also has left many doctors reluctant to suggest medical marijuana to patients, Lewis reports.

    Oftentimes, this leaves salespeople at dispensaries tasked with giving patients advice on what they should take and how much.

    How NiaMedic works

    That's where NiaMedic comes in. The company, founded in Israel in 2016, has about a dozen medical staff members at three clinics—two in Israel and one in Beverly Hills, California.

    The company aims to guide seniors through the legally murky world of medical marijuana to help them manage conditions. NiaMedic clinicians provide patients with a treatment plan based on the limited number of clinical trials that have been done on the subject, as well as the company's own data on over 10,000 patients dating back almost a decade, Lewis writes.

    Alon Blatt, NiaMedic's director of business development, said, "We're not claiming to cure any diseases. We’re trying to manage the symptoms, to improve quality of life." He added, "The bulk of the work is case management."

    At the clinic, a doctor will see about six to 10 patients a day and help manage a variety of diseases and medications while trying to keep patients from experiencing a disorienting high. Doctors and nurses at the clinic will test each patient's balance, ask about their diet, and talk about their conditions at home. If a patient has a history of certain severe cardiac or psychiatric issues, the doctors at NiaMedic won't recommend cannabis, Lewis writes.

    After the first visit, patients or caregivers will then go to a local dispensary to buy the products recommended by NiaMedic. The nurses at NiaMedic will then spend a month checking in with the patient gradually adjusting the dosage and delivery of the cannabis until they achieve the patient's goals, Lewis writes.

    According to NiaMedic, a large portion of patients have seen positive results. An internal study of just over 100 elderly patients showed that 93.8% "reported improvement in their condition" and over half stopped using opioids or other painkillers.

    NiaMedic plans on expanding with a number of new clinics in the United States within the next year, and the company has begun offering video consultations.

    The company, which Lewis reports doesn't sell marijuana or have a stake in companies that do, expects medical marijuana to take off.

    Blatt said, "Within five to 10 years, we're going to see cannabis in every ambulance: for stroke, for heart attack, for all kinds of things. Right now, we're sitting on a jet engine, but we're still on the runway going 10 miles an hour."

    The murky world of medical marijuana

    But not everyone is convinced medical marijuana is the right way to treat seniors' ailments.

    Benjamin Han, a geriatrician and assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine, said he's apprehensive about the limited amount of research that exists on medical marijuana.

    "A lot of what I do as a geriatrician is taking care of old people who have many chronic diseases, probably take a lot of medicines, and are really vulnerable to the adverse effects. A common thing [for older patients trying marijuana] is they get dizzy," he said. "That makes me worried. Could this be associated with falls?"

    There's also a significant stigma around medical marijuana, especially among older people. However, the stigma is beginning to fade, Daniel Reingold, president of Hebrew Home at Riverdale, an assisted living facility in New York City, said. "It's no longer being viewed with the same stigma. This is going to be a very big part of the baby boomer experience" (Lewis, Wall Street Journal, 7/11).

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