Alzheimer’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the progressive degeneration of an individual’s brain tissue. It is the most common form of dementia and symptoms of the disease typically begin with memory impairment which then progress to cognitive dysfunction, difficulties with comprehension, loss of physical coordination, speech impairment, possible psychosis, severe mental decline, and ultimately death. How quickly the disease progresses varies from individual to individual and unfortunately the symptoms of the disease are often mistaken for “signs of age” in sufferers.
Although the disease mostly affects people over the age of 65, the disease is not a natural result of aging. The exact causes of Alzheimer’s Disease are still unknown, and sadly there is currently no known cure.
Using Cannabis to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease
Cannabis is a complex medicinal plant that may actually be used to treat a variety of debilitating symptoms caused by a surprisingly large number of ailments. It’s usefulness as a non-lethal medicine (you cannot die from an overdose of cannabis) cannot be overstated and it’s versatility in terms of how it can be consumed and as to how it can be useful for so many illnesses is something to be excited about. However, it is important to remember that consulting with your primary care physician should be your first priority when considering incorporating cannabis into one’s medical regiment and that cannabis is to be used as an adjunct therapy and not a replacement. It is also your responsibility to communicate with your doctor as to how your use of cannabis has affected your health and of your progress with utilizing medical cannabis.
It is exciting to know that the number of medical studies surrounding cannabis as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease has grown over the past decade. Currently, there is a lot of interest in the neuroprotective properties of both Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), and one study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology by Campbell, et al in Jan 2009 concluded that, “...cannabinoids offer a multi-faceted approach for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease by providing neuroprotection and reducing neuroinflammation, whilst simultaneously supporting the brain’s intrinsic repair mechanisms by augmenting neurotrophin expression and neurogenesis.”
In general, scientific studies have shown that cannabis may be quite useful for treating individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the following reasons: slowing disease progression; reducing anxiety; mood enhancing for dealing with depression; preventing possible psychosis; reducing agitation and night time tossing and turning; and stimulating appetite to aid with weight gain.
FINDINGS: EFFECTS OF CANNABIS ON ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Studies have determined that the major cannabinoids found in cannabis, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), reduce the buildup of plaques and tangles, and therefore show viable potential as treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease. Cannabis’ potential efficacy for Alzheimer’s disease has been linked to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which modulates several pathological processes associated with the neurodegenerative disorder, including neuroinflammation, excitotoxicity, mitochondrial dysfunction, and oxidative stress. The endocannabinoid systems CB1 receptors have shown to regulate the neurotransmitters involved in excitotoxic neurodegenerative processes, while its CB2 receptors have shown to reduce the inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
THC has been shown to be effective at lowering amyloid-beta levels and enhancing mitochondrial function, therefore causing the researchers to conclude “that THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer’s through multiple functions and pathways”. An earlier study also found THC to be effective at preventing amyloid beta aggregation, indicating it could impact the progression of the disease. Another showed THC to reduce nocturnal motor activity and agitation in patients with dementia, suggesting it could be beneficial for treating behavioral and circadian disturbances.
A lack of glucose uptake has been linked to a worsening of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, and findings in a 2016 animal trial suggest that cannabis could promote an increased glucose uptake in the brain, suggesting that cannabis could be beneficial for treating Alzheimer’s disease through multiple methods.
One study found that early deficits in Alzheimer’s could be caused by a blockage or deficiency of cannabinoids, suggesting that supplementing with cannabinoids found in cannabis could reduce the risk of developing the disease.
Cannabinoids provide a multi-faceted approach in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. In addition to reducing amyloid-beta levels, modulating microglial function and increasing glucose uptake, they protect brain cells from the deleterious effects of amyloid-beta, reduce inflammation, and support the brain’s repair process by enhancing neurogenesis (birth of new cells) and providing neuroprotective effects. They’ve shown to improve psychomotor agitation, aggression and communication in those diagnosed with dementia.
STATES THAT HAVE APPROVED MEDICAL CANNABIS FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Currently, 11 states have approved medical cannabis specifically for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. These states include Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Ohio and Rhode Island.
In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical cannabis as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
Four other states will consider allowing medical cannabis to be used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease with the recommendation from a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of cannabis has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).
Beneficial Cannabinoids and Terpenoids Useful for Treating Alzheimer’s Disease
The cannabis plant offers a plethora of therapeutic benefits and contains cannabinoids and terpenoid compounds that are useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Once again, THC and CBD have been the focus of much attention when it comes to medical research into the ailment, and it is important to remember that there are still other cannabinoids and even terpenoids that may help with treating the disease.
The following list denotes which cannabinoids and terpenoids work synergistically with each other for possible therapeutic benefit. It may be beneficial to seek out strains that contain these cannabinoids and terpenoids.
Americans For Safe Access Condition-based Booklets
These booklets summarize the history of medical cannabis and the recent research used to treat a variety of conditions, including Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Pain, Arthritis, Gastro-Intestinal Disorders, Movement Disorders, HIV/AIDS, and conditions related to Aging. (About Americans For Safe Access)
Cannabis has been found to help many patients suffering from conditions that affect older patients, including arthritis, chronic pain, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and spasticity associated with such diseases as Parkinson’s.
Article: "How to Qualify for Medical Cannabis in New Mexico"
Understanding medical cannabis.Elemental Wellness Center, 2014 Jul.
How cannabinoids may slow brain aging.Szalavitz, Maia
Time, 2012 Oct 29.
Cannabinoid modulation of neuroinflammatory disorders.Saito, Viviane M., et al.
Current Neuropharmacology, 2012 Jun, 10(2): 159-166.
Terpenoids as potential anti-alzheimer’s disease therapeutics.Yoo, Ki-Yeol, et al.
Molecules, 2012 Mar 12, 17(3): 3524-3528.
The therapeutic potential of the endocannabinoid system for alzheimer’s disease.Karl, Tim, et al.
Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets, 2012 Apr, 16(4): 407-420.
An introduction to the medical benefits of cannabis.Acton, Jeremy, et al.
NORML, 2011 Apr 4.
Cannabidiol and other cannabinoids reduce microglial activation in vitro and in vivo: relevance to alzheimer’s disease.Martin-Moreno, Ana Maria, et al.
Molecular Pharmacology, 2011 Feb 24, 79(6): 964-973.
Cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids: role in neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders.Bisogno, Tiziana, et al.
CNS and Neurological Disorders: Drug Targets, 2010 Nov, 9(5): 564-573.
Cannabinoid system in neurodegeneration: new perspectives in alzheimer’s disease.Campillo, N.E., et al.
Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, 2009 May, 9(5): 539-559.
Alzheimer’s disease; taking the edge off with cannabinoids?Campbell, VA, et al.
British Journal of Pharmacology, 2009 Jan 29, 152(5): 655-662.
Cannabidiol: from an inactive cannabinoid to a drug with wide spectrum of action.Zuardi, Antonio Waldo
Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 2008 Sep, 30(3).
The role of the endocannabinoid system in alzheimer’s disease: facts and hypothesis.Bosogno, Tiziana, et al.
Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2008 Aug, 23(14): 2299-2305.
Cannabinoid CB2 receptor: a new target for controlling neural cell survival?Fernandez-Ruiz, Javier, et al.
Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 2007 Jan, 28(1): 39-45.
A molecular link between the active component of marijuana and alzheimer’s disease pathology.Eubanks, Lisa M, et al.
Molecular Pharmaceutics, 2006 Aug 9, 3(6): 773-777.
Cannabidiol inhibits inducible nitric oxide synthase protein expression and nitric oxide production in ?-amyloid stimulated PC12 neurons through p38 MAP kinase and NF-kB involvement.Esposito, Giuseppe, et al.
Neuroscience Letters, 2006 May 15, 399(1-2): 91-95.
The marijuana component cannabidiol inhibits ?-amyloid-induced tau protein hyperphosphorylation through Wnt/?-catenin pathway rescue in PC12 cells.Esposito, Giuseppe, et al.
Journal of Molecular Medicine, 2006, 84(3): 253-258.
A molecular link between the active component of marijuana and alzheimer’s disease pathology.Eubanks, Lisa M., et al.
Molecular pharmaceutics, 2006, 3(6): 773-777.