Alzheimer’s disease is one illness where no cure has been discovered yet. This progressive disease is characterized by memory loss as well as by the loss of other cognitive abilities. The steady decline in mental function and memory is caused by the degeneration and death of brain cells.
The rate at which the disease progresses and symptoms worsen varies from one patient to another. Symptoms include loss of memory — where the more recent ones get forgotten first, frequent state of confusion, loss of thinking and reasoning ability, loss of the ability to make sound judgments and decisions, and inability to perform familiar tasks. The brain changes that take place can also cause changes in the patient’s personality and behavior.
Current medication and management strategies for Alzheimer’s could temporarily slow down the deterioration of symptoms and even help patients function and maintain their independence a little longer. However, the disease will still eventually catch up with the patient and symptoms will still worsen over time.
Can cannabis treat Alzheimer’s?
One of the hallmark pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques, which is a toxic clumping of peptides in the brain tissue. These plaques promote inflammation of nerve cells and eventually destroy them. Several studies, including a pre-clinical study published in 2014 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, showed that very little doses of the cannabis compound THC can slow down beta-amyloid protein production. Beta-amyloid proteins are thus considered to be a key contributor to and characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and its progression.
Another pre-clinical study that administered both THC and CBD to mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms found that mice showed improved learning as well as less evidence of toxic amyloid clumps.
Yet another study found that exposing beta-amyloid proteins to THC reduced the levels of these proteins and stopped the resulting inflammatory response of the nerve cells, allowing these nerve cells to survive. Inflammation around the amyloid plaques is another contributor to Alzheimer’s development.
Aside from these, there were studies in 2007 and 2011 that found that cannabinoids may also affect the growth of the neural tissue in the hippocampus, which is the area of one’s brain that is associated with memory. More specifically, cannabinoids were observed to support the intrinsic repair mechanism of the brain.
One of the stronger arguments in favor of medical cannabis is its ability to alleviate other Alzheimer’s-related symptoms. There are various studies supporting that cannabis may offer patients an improved quality of life, from stimulating appetite to weight control to reducing agitation to motor functioning.
There have been a few clinical trials conducted on the effects of marijuana for people with dementia, particularly looking at whether cannabis can help manage some of its symptoms. In theory, the effects of marijuana or its components can counteract symptoms like agitation and aggression.
However, the sad truth is that there are still no trials or research that look into marijuana’s effects on Alzheimer’s in people. While these studies we have cited – and the many more we haven’t – show a lot of promise, the health community needs to see the wider effects of cannabis and its components before it can be said for sure that the drug has positive benefits and can surely help people prevent or cure Alzheimer’s.