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Medical Cannabis and Alzheimer’s Disease

July 22, 2019 • Lakewood Medical • Medical Marijuana

Alzheimer’s disease is often a devastating diagnosis for patients and caregivers alike. Here’s how medical marijuana could provide some relief for common symptoms and side effects. Alzheimer’s disease, an aggressive form of dementia, can rob older adults of their memories, their ability to function independently, and the capacity to make decisions. For caregivers, that can mean dealing with difficult behaviors, like agitation, or side effects from medication, like grogginess or loss of coordination.  However, Alzheimer’s now qualifies for medical cannabis under current Ohio law, and there is hope that this treatment could provide some relief from symptoms, potentially helping with hallucinations, anxiety, and other issues. 

Cannabis and Alzheimer’s Symptoms

Scientific evidence focused on medical marijuana as a treatment for the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is mixed, but promising. A study conducted by researchers at the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands found no reduction in anxiety, depression, hallucinations, and insomnia exhibited by Alzheimer’s patients. Conversely, a study conducted in Israel reported that adding THC to several patients’ therapy regimens did decrease those symptoms. In addition, researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences at the University of Toronto established that a synthetic variation of cannabis, nabilone, eased agitation in a group of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Agitation is a troubling and difficult symptom for caregivers to manage, and currently prescribed pharmaceuticals are neither widely effective nor particularly safe. With further research, medical marijuana and related treatments could prove to be a suitable alternative.

Potential Protection Against Alzheimer’s 

There is also potential that medical marijuana compounds could someday be useful for protecting against Alzheimer’s. In recent years, medical research has suggested that THC, one of the active compounds in medical cannabis, reduces the amount of beta-amyloid protein plaques in the brain, which are suspected to contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s. That finding was confirmed in a 2016 Salk Institute study, though the researchers concede that they tested THC on nerve cells grown in the lab, not in clinical trials.   Similarly, a promising study performed at the University Medical Center Goettingen in Goettingen, Germany, gave a synthetic form of TCH to mice. When given this compound, the mice that had been genetically altered to mimic the signs of Alzheimer’s disease performed just as well as healthy mice on memory tests. While these studies are limited, there is hope that they could lead to new treatments that protect against Alzheimer’s or prevent the condition from worsening. 

Is Medical Marijuana Right for Your Loved One? 

Ohio currently permits medical marijuana for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease — it’s one of 21 conditions approved by the state for medical cannabis. If you’re a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient struggling with agitation, anxiety, or side effects of medication, you may be interested in how medical marijuana could help bring relief.  Lakewood Medical Clinic believes that the right applications of medical marijuana can help Alzheimer’s patients live fuller lives. We understand the decision to use medical marijuana is highly personal and depends on a number of factors. Contact our office today to learn more about whether medical cannabis could be right for you or for the person you care for.