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Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and Medical Cannabis

Definition

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia where an ongoing decline of brain function affects the sufferer’s memory, thinking skills, ability to care for themselves, and other mental abilities. Mood swings and difficulty processing language are other symptoms. Age and genetics are the most significant risk factors in developing Alzheimer’s, but depression, hypertension, and head injuries are also contributing factors.

Potential Efficacy / Quality of Evidence (Low, Average, High) of Medical Marijuana for Alzheimer’s Disease

Average

Cannabinoids, Terpenes/Terpenoids, Strains, and Ratios that May Help

  • THC could be beneficial for removing beta-amyloid, the plaque-causing protein.
  • CBD may help reduce inflammation.
  • Terpenes such as limonene and pinene may help alleviate “brain fog” and memory loss to some extent.
  • CBC also has many neuroprotective properties.
  • CBD: THC 20:1; CBD:THC 1:1; THC may be helpful for dementia, although care must be taken with regards to the dosage of THC.

Medical Cannabis Pros

Small doses of THC may help remove or prevent the clumping together of the plaque-causing beta-amyloid from brain cells.

Cannabidiol (CBD) may help prevent Beta-Amyloid-induced toxicity in PC12 cells and act as an anxiolytic.

Cannabinoids, in particular CBD, may help promote neurogenesis — the growth of new neural pathways.

Medical Cannabis Cons

THC, particularly in high doses, can cause problems and difficulties with memory, problem-solving, and hand-eye coordination — not ideal for those with Alzheimer’s

Cannabinoids may alter the senses to some degree

More About the Condition

There is a lot of debate surrounding the use of cannabis for Alzheimer’s. Cannabinoids can promote neurogenesis, and some believe that they can be used to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s potentially. Alzheimer’s is also characterized by plaque formation caused by the clumping together of the amino acid amyloid-beta. There is evidence that a low dose of THC “directly interacts with Aβ peptide, thereby inhibiting aggregation.” Nearly 30 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease.

However, most of the experiments on using cannabis for Alzheimer’s have been carried out on animals and extracted tissues rather than on living humans. THC’s effects on short-term memory may also be of concern for Alzheimer’s patients, and it could be the case that small amounts of THC may be helpful, while high doses of THC should be avoided.

CBD may be of particular help by promoting neurogenesis, which can help prevent or even “resuscitate” dead or malfunctioning receptors, which can also help prevent anxiety. Small doses of THC may help remove preventing amyloid-beta from clumping together. However, evidence is mostly in labs or anecdotal, and there are few definitive studies. Yet, medications based on synthetic versions of THC, such as Marinol and dronabinol, are being tested to treat agitation in those with Alzheimer’s. However, whether synthetic versions of THC are as effective or safe for Alzheimer’s disease or any number of other conditions is a matter of research.

Quotes from Experts

“Several neurobiological effects of cannabinoids have been demonstrated, which could be relevant in treating dementia. The main function of the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) is thought to be the regulation of synaptic transmission (Baker 2003), and this process can be disordered in many neurological conditions, including dementia.” Source: Markovic, Domagoj et al. ‘Cannabinoids for the treatment of dementiaThe Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews vol. 2017,10 CD012820. 4 Oct. 2017, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012820

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Case Studies – Patient Stories

Can Marijuana Help Alzheimer’s Patients? | WGBH News