Today only 4 percent of Alzheimer’s patients are 65 or younger, but as the baby boomer generation ages that number will dramatically increase. Five million older Americans suffer from the disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately many older Americans will wonder why they should spend their golden years battling the illnesses or caring for someone who has it, when this is unnecessary because of the benefits boomers could gain in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease should they have access to legalized marijuana.
Scientists have made ground breaking discoveries in early detection of the disease but this does little for baby boomers who are working with older brains. Of the major deadly diseases in America, Alzheimer’s is the only illness that doctors have no way of slowing its progression, have no exact treatment that has had proven results, or a cure for the disease. When treating the disease doctors have to consider the age of the patient’s brain, according to Gary Wenk. Wenk is an expert on Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation of the brain. As a neuroscience professor at Ohio State he has studied extensively the effects of cannabis on the aging brain and inflammation. Using rats, he discovered that marijuana has positive impacts on cognitive health. “It’s worked in every rat we’ve given it to. We have some happy, intelligent old rats.”
Unfortunately that is the extent of the research. Studies like this are met with major challenges. Marijuana is legal in only two states. Cannabis is strictly prohibited in 25 states. In addition to that these studies are expensive. Professor Wenk was spending $150 per rat and spent $100,000 overall. The National Institute of Health spends far less on Alzheimer’s disease research than HIV/AIDS, cancer and heart disease research. In comparison $3-$6 billion is spent on each of the previously mentioned illnesses versus $480 million on Alzheimer’s research. Why support legal marijuana over medical marijuana for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease is a question that should be asked? With legal marijuana patients would not have to wait for the disease to develop in order to treat it. Legal marijuana also is heavily taxed by the government. This could indirectly create more funding for research and other programs that affect the aging population. While deaths from HIV/AIDS, cancer and heart disease decrease, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease continues to grow enormously.
Baby Boomers can change all of this. They are the demographic most heavily impacted by the illness and as half the voting population is over 45, they have the power to change the outcomes. Pined as the bell bottom wearing, war protesting pot smoking generation, it seems only natural they would be advocates of legalizing it. However, trends suggest that baby boomers are segregated. The younger generation was heavily influenced by Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. The oldest of the crowd have a tendency to lean more Democratic. Like all other generations they further differ in race, sex and socioeconomic status. This makes it hard to predict how they will behave in elections.
Perhaps one major unifying factor of this generation is community and the impact Alzheimer’s diseases will have on it. As the illness progresses it prevents seniors from enjoying the activities they participate in to remain a part of their communities. More and more seniors prefer to age at home. This is something that may not be possible when advanced dementia care is required. If baby boomers returned to their radical drug friendly roots it could open up a new level of funding for aging care, Alzheimer’s research and the treatment of the diseases that is hitting their community so hard. With these kinds of benefits it should be easy to see why legalizing marijuana would have such great benefits to baby boomers and the care they receive for Alzheimer’s Disease.
By Ashley Poag