The disease that causes dementia is very serious, and there are currently no cure treatments. However, research is growing more frequent about potential ways to manage or even treat the symptoms of this condition.
One area of study being explored is cannabis. Many people have noticed benefits from using marijuana in the treatment of other conditions, and some studies suggest it may help with cognitive function as well.
Cannabis has many components including CBDs (that can actually work similarly to antidepressants) and THC (the compound that gets you high). With diseases like Alzheimer’s where patients suffer from memory loss and overall deterioration, these compounds can be used to try and improve those functions.
This article will talk more about how cannabinoids affect neurodegenerative diseases and what we know so far about them for Alzheimers. If you would like to read more information about why someone might choose to use cannabis as a medicine instead of another one, check out our separate article: Is Marijuana Medicine?
Warning! Cannabis therapy comes with its own set of risks, especially if done improperly or without the correct dosing. Make sure your doctor prescribes the right amount for you.
Possible mechanisms of action of cannabis in Alzheimer’s disease
Recent studies suggest that cannabidiol (CBD), one of the major compounds in marijuana, may help prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease. CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation, promote neuronal communication, increase insulin sensitivity, and stimulate growth of new neurons.
Studies have also found that cannabinoids can bind to receptors located within the brain, impacting neurotransmitter activity.
Given that these effects are thought to be beneficial in treating mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, it makes sense to consider whether CBD could play a role in improving cognitive function in individuals with dementia.
However, there aren’t many well-designed clinical trials looking at the efficacy of CBD in people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. What we do know is that cannabinoid therapies hold promise, so more research into CBD is needed!
It is important to note that although cannabis products contain high levels of THC, the goal of this article is to discuss the potential benefits of CBD alone.
Clinical trials with cannabis
There have been several clinical studies looking into whether or not cannabinoids can help treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. These studies look at how well they work in improving memory, thinking, and behavior in people with early stage dementia.
A review of five randomized controlled trials (RCT) found that cannabidiol (CBD), one of the major compounds in marijuana, may improve cognition in individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. CBD was shown to reduce anxiety, agitation, and sleep problems in these patients.
Another study conducted over six months evaluated the effects of medical marijuana on behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). The results showed some positive benefits, such as reduced aggression and improved quality of life.
However, there were no significant changes observed in mental state, activity level, or mood.
It is important to note that most participants in this survey had mild cognitive impairment, which does not meet diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, these findings cannot be generalized to those who are experiencing full-on dementia.
Furthermore, two out of the five RCTs reviewed above assessed only short term effects of THC and CBD. It is possible that longer exposure to drugs could produce different results.
Legalization of cannabis
As we know, marijuana has many potential uses including pain relief, sleep aid, appetite stimulation, and relaxation. More importantly, it can be used to treat several diseases; however, it is still illegal in most countries.
A study conducted in Israel determined that cannabinoids may help slow down or even prevent dementia. The medical term for this condition is Alzheimer’s disease.
Cannabinoids affect chemicals in your body called endocannibins that regulate mood and emotions. Medical studies show that these compounds reduce inflammation and oxidative stress which are both linked to cognitive decline and neurodegeneration.
It seems logical then, that by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, maybe you can prevent or at least postpone memory loss due to Alzheimer’s. Because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, CBD could also have therapeutic benefits in other conditions related to chronic inflammation such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and atherosclerosis.
There are some preliminary human clinical trials looking into whether cannabidiol (CBD) helps patients with Alzheimer’s symptoms. So far, they seem promising, but more research needs to be done.
Side effects and concerns
While there have been some studies showing that cannabis may help treat symptoms of dementia, it is important to note that most of these studies were done in people who already had moderate-severe disease. Therefore, they may be using cannabis as a complementary treatment to other therapies, which are actually being stopped because they are not working anymore.
Studies also show that cannabinoids can have both positive and negative impacts on mental health. This includes depression, anxiety, agitation, aggression, personality changes, sleep issues, and hunger. All of these could contribute to worsening of symptoms for someone with dementia.
It is very difficult to determine whether or not the side effects outweigh the potential benefits. More research needs to be done to see if this intervention is worth trying.
Tips for using cannabis
As mentioned before, CBD is one of the most prevalent compounds in marijuana. It can be consumed directly through topical salves or oils, ingestible forms like capsules or tablets, or vaporized as smoking would be with pot.
When it comes to administering CBD for dementia, there are two main ways to do so. You can administer oral CBD, taking either gel caps, pills, or infused liquids, or you can use an oil drop method that does not require ingestion.
For the latter, simply rub the drops onto your skin or add some to your mouth/tongue/lips. This article will discuss how to use cannabis for dementia via droplet application.
Cannabis has been shown to have many potential benefits, including alleviating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Because it is still illegal under federal law, however, it is important to follow legal guidelines when consuming CBD.
Recent studies suggest that cannabis may help reduce symptoms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Medical marijuana has been shown to improve cognition in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early stage Alzheimer’s.
A review published in 2013 found that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties and can decrease levels of cytokines, which are substances your body makes to respond to inflammation. Cytokine levels increase when you’re sick or injured, so lowering them helps restore balance and normal function.
Another study conducted at the University of California, San Diego determined that cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main compounds in cannabis, may prevent neurons from dying due to oxidative stress. Oxidation is the process by which cells consume oxygen and release free radicals, damaging molecules that work together to keep us healthy.
Oxidative stress has been linked to neurodegeneration, and thus CBD may be able to protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Medical marijuana cards
As mentioned earlier, there are two types of medical cannabis cards: ones that allow you to use cannabis in oral forms or oils, and ones that permit smoking. Oral forms like tinctures and salves can be used to apply direct contact onto your skin or under your tongue.
Oils that contain CBD will usually be applied directly onto your affected area. These include topical gels, lotions, and creams, which are then absorbed into the body slowly, requiring some time before seeing results.
People with Alzheimer’s disease often experience muscle spasms and pain, so using these products properly is important to see benefits. Because it takes longer for the drugs to work, people who use this technique should do so twice per day, at least, to get the same effects as one night only.
There are several ways to manage pain when suffering from dementia, but unfortunately not all of them have been shown to help. One way many patients find success is by taking opioid analgesics (pain medications such as Oxycodone or Vicodin) and combining those with anti-anxiety medication, either herbal or pharmaceutical.
This combination may prove more effective than just using one alone. Another option is talking therapy, such as counseling or talk groups, where you can share experiences with others going through similar things.
As mentioned earlier, there is some evidence suggesting that cannabinoids may help treat or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But before you start medicating yourself with weed, remember that marijuana remains a drug at its core.
And like any other drugs, THC can have unintended consequences. Some of which are serious.
So while it is possible to find CBD-only products that do not contain enough THC to get users high, research shows that this may not be the best approach.
By including small amounts of THC, your body is more likely to perceive the product as being higher quality than pure CBD alone. And thus, may be more effective in producing results.
There have been several studies showing that by adding THC to CBD treatments, patients experience better outcomes.
However, just like with CBD without THC, make sure your medication isn’t contaminated with illegal substances such as cocaine.