Medical Cannabis and Dementia
Dementia is a broad term used to describe a variety of different diseases that affect the brain and lead to decreasing ability to remember, think, and reason. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia and it can strike individuals as early as their 30s or 40s, though most who suffer from Alzheimer’s start experiencing symptoms in their 60s and 70s.
Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s is caused by a variety of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors. These factors lead to an abnormal amount of protein and plaque to build up on the neurons, causing them to lose the ability to connect and communicate with each other.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia cannot be cured, but there are treatment options and there are also ways to delay the onset of these devastating conditions. One of the most medically accepted treatments is a form of cholinesterase inhibitor. However, this prescription drug has serious side effects and can also interact with other prescription medications.
How Is Cannabis Linked to Dementia?
Studies are now showing that cannabis can have a positive impact on preventing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as well as treating it once symptoms start to appear. The cannabinoids that are present in marijuana interact with the human endocannabinoid system that is responsible for nearly every bodily function. Though there are cannabinoid receptors throughout the body, they are most plentiful in the brain.
When marijuana is consumed, the cannabinoids in the drug bind to certain endocannabinoid receptors and release neurochemicals in the brain. When this happens, the communication between brain cells is enhanced and various processes including mood, memory, appetite, and pain are affected.
Research Findings on CBD and Alzheimer’s Disease
The Alzheimer’s Research Program has funded numerous studies on how endocannabinoids affect anxiety and mood in dementia patients and provides us with the answer to the question: does medical marijuana help Alzheimer’s disease? These and other studies have shown that cannabis can help manage behavioral symptoms such as aggression and agitation in those with Alzheimer’s while others have discovered that the chemical component THC helps to reverse the buildup of the plaques that are found in the brain and known to contribute to the degeneration of brain tissue and death of brain cells. THC is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties which further reduces brain cell damage.
A research study performed in Israel also had positive results. In the study, medical cannabis oil was given to a group of Alzheimer’s patients and the results were observed. There was found to be a significant reduction in dementia symptoms in these individuals and those who conducted the study deemed the use of cannabis as safe and effective when treating patients with the disease.
The Future of Cannabis for Alzheimer’s Disease
Marijuana research will continue to get more robust as medical cannabis is more widely made legal and available. It will likely be increasingly used as a treatment for symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, and mood swings that are common for those with dementia. In addition, as further research is conducted on the preventative properties of marijuana, it may also be used for those who are not yet displaying symptoms of dementia to help them ward off the disease.