For older adults suffering from pain, anxiety and other chronic conditions, cannabis can be a game-changer. But finding the right product and dosage can be a daunting process without reliable guidance beyond what dispensary staff can provide.
The clinics established by Israeli/American company NiaMedic offer an intriguing model that overcomes the most common obstacles older adults face, to help them successfully reap the benefits of cannabis medicine using evidence based protocols.
I spoke with NiaMedic’s Director of Business Development, Alon Blatt, about how the company’s scientific approach to cannabis medicine is suited to seniors:
Abbie Rosner (AR): What does NiaMedic offer the older adult patient?
Alon Blatt (AB): About 60% of the people we treat at our clinics are over 60, and cannabis is especially effective for treating the chronic conditions they struggle with. Every new patient undergoes a thorough exam to determine if they are a suitable candidate for cannabis therapy. For older adults, this includes a review of all their medications to identify potential drug/drug or cannabis/drug interactions, a cognitive evaluation, as well as a physical exam to ascertain any risk for falls. Then the patient meets with a clinician who devises a treatment plan with a specific medicine, mode of delivery and dosage, based on our proven treatment protocols.
AR: How do the company’s Israeli origins inform its practice?
AB: Unlike in the US, Israel’s relationship with cannabis has focused primarily on medical use and research. Ten years ago, our co-founder, Inbal Sikorin, was head nurse at a nursing home when she first saw how remarkably effective cannabis was for improving the lives of her elderly patients. At that time there was virtually no clinical research on cannabis use. She went on to collaborate with Prof. Rafael Mechoulam, and (Israeli medical cannabis company) Tikun Olam, to start collecting data on the medicine patients were using and their outcomes.
Nurse and NiaMedic co-founder Inbal Sikorin
Three years ago, Inbal joined forces with CEO Nir Dror to create NiaMedic, to expand the number of patients who could benefit from their wealth of experience and proven treatment protocols. It took time, but with hard clinical data to back up the effectiveness of our protocols, we were able to win over the most skeptical American clinicians. We now have research partners at UCLA, and receive numerous referrals from conventional physicians.
AR: You offer treatment protocols, but not products?
AB: NiaMedic doesn’t manufacture or sell any cannabis products. Furthermore, our protocols are based on specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles for specific conditions and patient characteristics, and not a particular product from one company. This prevents any conflict of interest and our patients know that we have no vested interest in recommending one product or another.
Once a treatment plan is defined, we match our patient’s recommended medicine with a product that contains the desired cannabinoid profile and is available in a dispensary, such as Kannabis Works in Santa Ana. After the patient purchases their medicine, we check the Certificates of Analysis from that product’s batch number to make sure that they are receiving exactly the medicine they need.
AR: How do you address older adults’ concerns over getting high?
AB: All of the medicines in our protocols are from the cannabis plant and contain some THC, but usually in small amounts. This is especially important for older adults who do not want to experience any psychoactivity and are at a greater risk of falls. In a study we published, 94% of patients reported that they didn’t feel any psychoactivity or ”lightheadness” during treatment.
AR: What outcomes have you had?
AB: Excellent! From the beginning, we make it clear to our patients that we are invested in their positive outcome. After a patient’s visit to the clinic, we include one month of case management during which time we call the patient once a week to follow-up, check on their progress and adjust their treatment plan if necessary. We continue these calls weekly for a month, which is usually the time the patient’s treatment goals are reached.
From data we collected on patients with an average age of 78, 93.8% reported improvement of their overall condition, while none reported deterioration. Among patients who started with a median pain score of 10/10, within six months, the average score was down to 2.5/10. And over 50% of our population stopped using opiates and other analgesics.
AR: Where do you see patients? Any expansion plans?
AB: We see patients in our Beverly Hills and Orange County locations. We also do telemedicine and help people from all over the country. We are currently in the process of expanding to Florida, New Jersey and Illinois. We have developed a “clinic in a clinic” model where a medical cannabis component using our treatment protocols can easily be incorporated into existing practices, and are looking for partners for that. And because our protocols are not limited to products from a single manufacturer, they can be fulfilled in the various states.
NiaMedic’s motto says that it is important not only to have a long life but also a good life. It is deeply distressing to see how modern medicine has succeeded in prolonging people’s lives, yet their final years are full of suffering. With our data-drive approach to cannabis medicine, we are showing that there is a better way of getting older.