Clinical studies show promising results for using medical marijuana to treat patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
For millennia, cannabis has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions all across the world. Now, as medical marijuana initiatives have become increasingly popular, there’s a growing interest in exploring the potential of cannabis to manage everything from PTSD to glaucoma.
In recent years, researchers have begun to study how medical marijuana could be used to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. While more research is needed, there are some promising results indicating that patients affected by these two conditions may benefit from using medical cannabis.
The Challenges of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alzheimer’s and dementia primarily affect a person’s memory and cognitive functioning, resulting in memory loss, confusion, and difficulty communicating. In addition, both tend to cause ancillary symptoms, including agitation, anxiety, and depression.
Agitation especially can be hard for caregivers to manage, and is often the underlying reason why some Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are prescribed antipsychotics or even physically restrained — both of which are drastic measures that are rarely recommended by modern physicians.
In addition to the challenges presented to caregivers, aggressive behavior and sleep disturbances can have a drastic effect on patients’ quality of life. Because many of the drugs used to manage agitation provide minimal benefits and an increased risk of harmful side effects, doctors have been on the lookout for a means of treatment that’s safer and more effective.
Can Medical Marijuana Help Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
A recent study tested the efficiency of nabilone, a synthetic form of cannabis, for patients with dementia, and found that agitation decreased significantly for those who took the drug as compared to those who were given the placebo. The primary side effects noted in the study were drowsiness and a high-like euphoria.
There’s also a growing body of evidence indicating that medical marijuana may help stop the progression of Alzheimer’s. A preclinical study from 2014 suggests that small doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the active compounds in medical marijuana, is able to slow the production of beta-amyloid proteins, which are thought to be a key contributor to the progression of Alzheimer’s.
A number of other studies support the idea that THC helps prohibit the growth of toxic amyloid plaques, though in one important case THC was administered to lab-grown nerve cells rather than to patients in clinical trials. Another study reported that mice that had been genetically altered to have Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and treated with THC performed just as well during memory tests as their unaltered counterparts.
All in all, while more studies and trials need to be done, the initial results have researchers hopeful that medical marijuana could potentially slow or prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, cannabis may serve as an effective treatment for patients’ ancillary symptoms such as agitation and aggression.
If you’re a patient or caregiver living in Ohio, and you’re curious whether medical cannabis can help you or a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, contact us today. Our team of specialists are on-hand to help guide you through the different treatment options available.