Medical Monday: Alzheimer’s & Cannabis

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Many families experience this disease firsthand and know how great of a toll it can take on those involved, mentally and emotionally. Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that worsens over time, so this usually means a long and difficult road for those who suffer from the disease and for the loved ones surrounding them. No cure currently exists for Alzheimer’s disease, however many patients are on extensive medications to manage their symptoms and provide temporary relief. Considering the lack of medications conventional medicine has to offer, many patients are turning to cannabis, and so far it appears to be working exceptionally well for many who suffer from the disease.

Studies over the past decade have been testing the effects of cannabis as an alternative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease prevention and symptoms. Besides being affected by extreme memory loss, those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease often experience fits of rage, aggression, lack of sleep, lack of appetite. These symptoms are often accompanied by anxiety and depression. These varied facets of the disease can be very difficult for loved ones who may feel helpless at times as caretakers, and cannabis appears to be help. Researchers are beginning to show evidence that the plant could help prevent the disease in the first place, and perhaps one of the best ways to avoid cognitive decline is to strike preemptively. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Investigators at Scripps Research Institute report, “THC inhibits the enzyme responsible for the aggregation of amyloid plaque-the primary marker for Alzheimer’s disease…our results provide a mechanism whereby the THC molecule can directly impact Alzheimer’s disease pathology.”

In other words, THC is preventing the protein that builds on the brain and supposedly causes the disease from being able to collect. CBD and THC also reduce neuro-inflammation, crucial for maintaining cognitive health. Ohio State University researchers published a paper in 2007 stating that, “Medications which can stimulate cannabinoid receptors in the brain may provide clinical benefits in age-related diseases that are associated with brain inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

Symptoms of the disease are often treated with antidepressants or antianxiety medications which can cause negative side effects including aches, pains, nausea and even more serious ones, like suicidal thoughts. Some antianxiety medications can leave patients in a zombie-like daze, which can be frustrating for patients and their loved ones. Cannabis can be a gentler way to relieve feelings of depression and anxiety. In 2014, researchers from the University of South Florida concluded, “When THC is used in small to moderate doses, the therapeutic benefits of THC appear to prevail over the associated risks of THC toxicity and memory impairment.” Numerous small studies have provided the same results, warranting further research and presenting cannabis as an option for Alzheimer’s, as patients frequently experienced a decrease in aggressive behavior and anxiety while using cannabis. Cannabis can also help regulate sleep schedules and maintain healthy weights of patients. These things might seem like small victories to the average person, but for someone suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, any return to normalcy is an enormous relief. It is incredibly difficult to watch a loved one experience cognitive decline. The aggression that comes with Alzheimer’s disease can be heartbreaking for friends and family members on the receiving end. In many cases this behavior is a side effect of Alzheimer’s disease and is uncharacteristic of the person before the disease set in.

Medical professionals are still divided on cannabis’ potential as an Alzheimer’s disease medication and it’s clear that more research is warranted. What we do know is the lack of answers for Alzheimer’s disease patients highlights the need for more research and answers when it comes to cannabis because it seems to be working for many people who suffer from it. If cannabis can provide Alzheimer’s patients with a way to live a happier and more fulfilling life, then further research needs to be conducted with a sense of urgency.