Can Cannabis Help People With Dementia
7 December 2020
Researchers at NICM Health Research Institute are set to examine the effects of a complex cannabis-based medicine on cognitive function in people with early-stage Alzheimers disease, the most common cause of dementia.
The project, a collaboration between NICM Health Research Institute and Australian Natural Therapeutics Group , will recruit over the next two years 80 volunteers, for the 12-week randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase II trial.
Project Chief Investigator and Director of Research at NICM Health Research Institute, Associate Professor Genevieve Steiner says the research has the potential to lead to a desperately needed medical breakthrough for Alzheimers disease in an area that has seen over 150 failed attempts at developing drugs for this indication over the past 20 years.
Mild cognitive impairment is a transitional stage between healthy cognitive ageing and dementia. When memory problems are present it significantly increases the risk of Alzheimers disease, said Associate Professor Steiner.
There are currently no approved treatments for mild cognitive impairment, and anti-Alzheimers disease medications have not been shown to improve memory and thinking in mild cognitive impairment over time, nor do they address the underlying causes of the disease.
Both studies are funded by Western Sydney University and ANTG.
How Medical Marijuana Helps With Alzheimers Disease Symptoms
Medical marijuana is a powerful tool for alleviating many Alzheimers symptoms. Marijuana can:
- Stimulate appetite.
- Improve insomnia.
- Alleviate depression and anxiety.
There is also promising preclinical research showing that medical marijuana may help reduce agitation, aggression and irritability.
As with any medication, each person will react differently to marijuana, so it is critical to work closely with an experienced medical marijuana physician such as Dr. Daniel P. Stein at Neurology of Cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Brings Controversy To The Medical Community
Medical marijuana or medical cannabis has been used throughout the world and for thousands of years to treat disease or alleviate symptoms from disease.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two medical marijuana medications in pill form, dronabinol and nabilone. These two drugs are being used to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and increase the appetites of people with AIDS.
However, because of its addictive properties and unknown long term effects, its usage today is controversial in the medical community. While medical marijuana has been shown to reduce nausea in people undergoing chemotherapy and help people living with HIV/AIDS some medical professionals are wary of using it as a treatment method.
Several organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, have issued statements opposing its usage for medical treatment purposes.
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Best Cannabis Strains For Alzheimers Disease
While there isnt yet sufficient evidence to recommend standardized dosages of medical marijuana for Alzheimers disease, there are certain strains that can help treat specific aspects of the disease. Here are some considerations when choosing strains of medical cannabis for Alzheimers disease:
- Cannabis Sativa: This strain of cannabis is known to enhance cognitive function. This can be helpful to Alzheimers disease patients who wish to be stimulated, energized and more fully engaged in conversations.
- Cannabis Indica: This strain of cannabis is known to improve sleep and stimulate appetite. Often patients with Alzheimers dont have regular sleeping and eating patterns and may find cannabis indica strains helpful in treating these symptoms.
- Cannabis Hybrids: These strains of cannabis are mixes between indica and sativa and offer benefits from both types. Cannabis hybrids offer either a sativa- or indica-dominant strain or a half-and-half mix. Alzheimers disease patients can choose a hybrid strain based on which symptoms they want to treat.
Cannabis For Alzheimers: Can Cannabis Help With Memory Loss
Dementia itself is a set of symptoms that are associated with the progressive deterioration of cognitive function, which in turn, affects daily activities and quality of life. Alzheimers disease is the most common cause of dementia, and is characterized by plaques and tangles in the brain that kill off cells.
Common signs and symptoms of Alzheimers include:
- Memory loss
- Changes in ability to communicate
- Impaired judgement and reasoning
As there is no cure, treatments for Alzheimers focus on slowing symptoms of the disease, along with managing the behavioural changes and maintaining mental function.
One drug in particular is getting some attention as a possible treatment option to help manage dementia symptoms: Cannabis.
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Alzheimers Disease: Marijuana Helps Patients And Their Caregivers
Alzheimers disease is a neurological disorder that disrupts memory, cognition, language skills, and other processes in the brain, and its the most common form of dementia. There is no drug that can reverse or cure Alzheimers, but there are several drugs, including cannabis, to alleviate AD symptoms.
According to the Alzheimers Association, about 34,000 Utahns ages 65 and older had AD in 2020. That figure is expected to increase to 42,000 by 2025. Alzheimers disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the fourth in Utah. AD is responsible for more deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
Selection Criteria And Methods
One reviewer screened citations and selected studies. In the first level of screening, titles and abstracts were reviewed and potentially relevant articles were retrieved and assessed for inclusion. The final selection of full-text articles was based on the inclusion criteria presented in .
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What Side Effects/ Symptoms Of Dementia Can Medical Marijuana Treat
Furthermore, researchers also noted a substantial reduction in psychological and behavioral dementia symptoms including:
Aggression And Anxiety In Alzheimers Patients
Aggression and anxiety are two symptoms of Alzheimers disease that may be helped with the use of medical marijuana. These symptoms are likely to occur in people with AD due to changes in the environment, communication problems, and physical discomfort.
Medical marijuana use is connected with relaxation, feelings of calm, and reduced motor activity. These effects of marijuana, provided by compounds called cannabinoids, may reduce aggression and anxiety in people with Alzheimers. By easing agitation, marijuana use can help Alzheimers patients feel more comfortable.
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In Vivo Studies Using Cbd For Ad
Two in-vitro studies using CBD treated the right dorsal hippocampus of mice with human A peptide and applied CBD to evaluate the effects of CBD on neurotoxicity and inflammation. The results showed that CBD significantly inhibited the expression of GFAP, mRNA, and protein and reduced the expression of iNOS and IL-1 protein.19) Moreover, the effects of CBD were confirmed with and without the antagonist of PPAR . It was found that the blocking of PPAR mitigated the effects of CBD on neural damage and CBD stimulated the neurogenesis of the hippocampus through interactions .
Can Cannabis Or Cbd Oil Treat Dementia Or Its Symptoms
There are no research studies that prove cannabis, or products such as cannabis oil , can stop, slow, reverse or prevent the diseases that cause dementia.
Some studies suggest cannabis could help to manage a few behavioural symptoms of dementia, such as agitation and aggression.
But more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of taking cannabis, and whether it is an effective and safe way to tackle dementia symptoms.
If you have any questions or concerns about cannabis use and the risk of dementia or other brain disorders, please talk to your GP.
Reduce your risk of dementia
Read our advice to help reduce your risk of developing dementia.
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a plant. The dried leaves, flowering parts or resin extracted from the plant is taken recreationally.
Cannabis is made up for two main components Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol.
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Traditional Alzheimers Disease Treatments
While there is no known cure for Alzheimers disease, there are a few conventional medications and treatments aimed at slowing disease progression. The two FDA-approved classes of drugs for Alzheimers disease are:
1. Cholinesterase Inhibitors: These drug types boost the production of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine plays a role in learning and encoding new memories. Patients with Alzheimers disease have depleted levels of acetylcholine. Cholinesterase inhibitors can control symptoms such as agitation and depression.
Prescription cholinesterase inhibitors for Alzheimers disease include:
- Cognex ,
Common side effects of cholinesterase inhibitors include diarrhea, nausea and sleep and appetite loss.
2. N-methyl-D-aspartate Receptor Antagonists:NMDA receptor antagonists treat moderate to severe cases of Alzheimers disease. This drug aims to regulate levels of glutamate, an important neurotransmitter for learning and memory. Memantine is a brand of NMDA receptor antagonist drug prescribed to Alzheimers patients. Side effects of Memantine include constipation, headaches and dizziness.
Studies On Cannabis And Dementia
At this point, a few, small clinical studies on cannabis for dementia-related behaviors are beginning to deliver data.
A recently published pilot study of 10 patients with severe dementia in Switzerland found that administering a medication combining cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol , the two main compounds in cannabis, resulted in a dramatic reduction in behavioral problems and rigidity. It also led to the complete elimination by half of the patients of the use of antipsychotics and other drugs.
Another pilot study from Israel found that adding a medical cannabis preparation to the standard pharmaceutical treatment protocol was a safe and promising treatment option.
In the meantime, with or without scientific data, more and more people are willing to investigate cannabis to treat their loved ones with dementia.
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Cannabis And Alzheimers Disease: What The Research Shows
For both patients and their loved ones, Alzheimers Disease ranks among the most challenging conditions one can experience. This chronic neurodegenerative disorder leads to progressive symptoms including dementia, memory loss, emotional issues, and speech problems, among others. Few treatments exist and available therapies only address some symptoms, but not the progression of the disease itself. The search for new therapeutic options has led to significant interest in cannabis-based treatments and researchers are currently working to advance our understanding of the possible roles medical cannabis could play in the future of Alzheimers treatment.
A Brief History Of Medical Cannabis Use
Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for well over 5000 years, and it was not until 1941, in response to articles that have since been proven false published in the late 20s, that it was removed from the US pharmacopia. In recent years, many western countries have begun limited medical marijuana allowances, with a strongly positive response from patients and indications that the drug is primarily being used among patients to successfully treat the various physical and mental challenges it was prescribed to address.
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In Vivo Studies Using Cbd
Two in-vivo studies using CBD and THC at the same time showed that the CBD+THC treatment was effective on the memory of APP/PS1 transgenic mice and the CBD+THC was more effective than CBD alone or THC alone treatments . Moreover, the CBD+THC treatment reduced the GluR2/3 of aged APP/PS1 mice and increased the level of GABA-A R1 .
Alzheimers Effects On The Brain
Three known brain abnormalities can form in people with Alzheimers disease. Doctors can identify which of the brain abnormalities are present in a patient by examining brain tissue under the microscope. The three brain abnormalities that cause Alzheimers disease symptoms include:
1. Plaques: Plaques are clumps of beta-amyloid, a sticky protein that builds up between the brains nerve cells. These plaques prevent the synthesis of important neurotransmitters responsible for learning and memory function.
As these plaques accumulate, the brain becomes further impaired in learning and memory abilities.
2. Tangles: Brain cells require a transport system to acquire essential nutrients and minerals. These are transported through long extensions supported by a protein called tau. Unhealthy threads of tau protein in Alzheimers patients twist themselves and form tangles. This tangled network prevents cells from gaining proper nourishment, which causes them to die off.
3. Loss of Nerve Cell Connection: As tangles and plaques accumulate in the brain, it prevents the connection between nerve cells. Without a connection to one another, the cells die off. As more and more cells die off, it causes atrophy, which is shrinkage in brain tissue.
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The Relationship Between Marijuana And Dementia Is Complex Some Research Shows The Drug May Harm The Brain Whereas Other Studies Suggest The Drug Could Treat Dementia
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Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that involve a reduction in thinking abilities. It does not refer to a particular disease or condition instead, it describes different symptoms that characterize cognitive decline. Alzheimers is the most common form of dementia.
With recent laws allowing for medical and recreational marijuana use, there has been more discussion about the relationship between marijuana and dementia. Many people wonder whether marijuana can help dementia, while others wonder if it can cause dementia to occur. Unfortunately, the answers are rather complex.
Cbd Oil And Alzheimers
Cannabis oil or CBD oil cant be ignored when it comes to treating any debilitating condition with medical marijuana.
Is this the result of aggressive marketing by CBD oil manufacturers? Or is it because of testimonies from patients whove experienced relief from CBD oil?
Well, the presence of CBD is an indication that CBD oils may have medicinal value.
Whether the content of a particular CBD oil matches its labeling is another story. And thats why CBD oils are so difficult to evaluate medically. To clarify, CBD oils arent medical products so their claims shouldnt be taken as medical advice.
Nonetheless, reputable CBD oil manufacturers such as InstacraftCBD make the case for the use of commercially available CBD oils for medicinal purposes. This is because their products undergo third-party testing to verify that their labeling matches their content.
So how can CBD oil be beneficial for Alzheimers patients?
Well, as mentioned earlier, the CBD in cannabis oil could help reduce inflammation, consequently reducing amyloid plaques and the formation of tangles among other benefits.
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Best Edibles For Alzheimers
Administering medical marijuana to Alzheimers patients can be an easy process. Methods like smoking may not be suitable for senior patients who have compromised lungs or too repulsive for those that dont like the smell of cannabis.
Therefore, edibles have become the go-to when it comes to administering medical cannabis to Alzheimers patients.
Greg Spiers account is a real-life example of when edibles proved best for Alzheimers.
Greg Spier, son of Alex Spier, administered granola bar marijuana edibles to his father who was battling Alzheimers. According to Greg Spier, marijuana was the only drug that seemed to give his father any reprieve.
The appealing nature of cannabis edibles makes them one of the easiest ways to administer medical marijuana to Alzheimers patients.
Moreover, cannabis edibles are available in marijuana dispensaries and come prepackaged and marked according to dosage. So theyre an excellent option to keep track of doses.
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Has Alzheimer’s Society Ever Funded Research Into Cannabis And Dementia
Alzheimer’s Society has never funded research into cannabis and dementia risk, or into cannabis as a potential treatment for dementia symptoms.
This is because we have not received any high-quality applications from researchers intending to investigate these issues.If we received a high-quality application into cannabis and dementia from a researcher based at a UK university, research institute or NHS trust, then we would certainly consider this for funding.
What research is Alzheimer’s Society funding?
Learn more about the research projects we currently fund and have funded previously.
Systematic Reviews With Relevant Primary Studies Fully Captured In The Included Systematic Review
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- NoelC. Evidence for the use of medical marijuana in psychiatric and neurologic disorders. The mental health clinician. 2017 7:2938.
- WilkinsonST, RadhakrishnanR, DSouzaDC. A Systematic Review of the Evidence for Medical Marijuana in Psychiatric Indications. J Clin Psychiatry. 2016 77:10501064.
- LiuCS, ChauSA, RuthirakuhanM, LanctotKL, HerrmannN. Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Agitation and Aggression in Alzheimers Disease. CNS drugs. 2015 29:615623
- Van den ElsenGA, AhmedAI, LammersM, et al. Efficacy and safety of medical cannabinoids in older subjects: a systematic review. Ageing research reviews. 2014 14:5664.