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Medical Cannabis for Alzheimer’s Disease: Can Cannabis Help with Dementia and Other Symptoms?

29 May 2023

Key Points

  • Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease that causes memory loss, cognitive decline and other symptoms. Research suggests cannabis may help with some of these symptoms.
  • Cannabis may help manage Alzheimer’s symptoms, including pain, anxiety and mood disorders. Cannabinoids readily cross the blood-brain barrier, where they exert their effects on the brain.
  • CBD has been shown to slow down the buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain. This non-psychoactive chemical has also been shown to reduce anxiety and stress.
  • THC has been shown to boost the brain’s metabolism. In effect, cannabis may help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • A combination of CBD and THC may be more effective than either cannabinoid alone for Alzheimer’s treatment. Additionally, high doses of THC can be detrimental to dementia due to its psychoactive effects.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disorder affecting millions worldwide. It is the most common form of dementia, and it’s estimated that nearly a million in the UK live with Alzheimer’s.

The most common form of Alzheimer’s is called ‘mild cognitive impairment’ (MCI). It usually starts with mild memory problems that worsen over time, eventually leading to dementia. This makes it harder to identify and treat.

There are currently no treatments available for reversing or preventing this condition. However, some medications can help manage symptoms such as depression or anxiety. In addition, other drugs used for pain management (e.g., opioids) can also address comorbid conditions.

That said, these prescription medications come with side effects that may be detrimental to people with MCI. The adverse effects can make it harder for patients to follow through with treatment programs. As such, natural alternatives are gaining popularity.

One of the more promising natural remedies for dementia is medical cannabis. In this article, we’ll look at the evidence for cannabis as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. We’ll also discuss some potential risks and benefits of medical cannabis use in this population.

Starting a medical cannabis treatment program for Alzheimer’s is a daunting process. That’s why our experts here at Lyphe are here to help. As the largest and most trusted medical cannabis clinic in the UK, we have the knowledge and expertise to help you decide whether this is right for you or your loved one. Book an appointment with one of our experts today!

Alzheimer’s disease: what you need to know

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. It’s a form of dementia, which means it affects your ability to think clearly and make decisions. As the most common form of dementia, it accounts for 60-80% of all cases.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia in older people but can also affect younger adults and children. The disease is characterised by the formation of abnormal protein deposits (called plaques or tangles) in the brain. This leads to a gradual decline in cognitive function, including memory loss, impaired judgement, and difficulty with language and communication.

Causes

There’s no single cause of Alzheimer’s. It’s thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that trigger the development of amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. These protein deposits build up over time, leading to brain cell death.

Research has shown that people who experience head injuries, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or a family history of dementia are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The role of genetics in Alzheimer’s disease is also well-established. The gene that causes most cases of early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease, or FAD, is called presenilin 1 (PSEN1). People who have a specific variation in this gene are more likely to develop the disorder before age 65.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can vary widely from person to person. It may take years for symptoms to develop, but they typically include the following:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Poor judgement and decision-making, such as financial or business decisions
  • Disorientation in time and place
  • Trouble completing familiar tasks at home or work.

If you have some of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you or your loved one have Alzheimer’s disease. Other conditions or factors could cause it. Nevertheless, the presence of these symptoms that interfere with daily life merits a doctor’s visit.

Diagnosis

Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed through a combination of medical history interviews, mental status tests, physical and neurological exams, and more.

To diagnose Alzheimer’s, a doctor or physician may perform the following on suspected patients:

  • Physical exam: This is often the first step in establishing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. A doctor will examine the patient and ask about symptoms, medical history, lifestyle habits and other factors that could affect their health. The exam may include blood tests to check for vitamin B12 deficiency or thyroid problems that can cause similar symptoms.
  • Neurological exam: The doctor may test reflexes, muscle tone and strength, coordination, balance, sense of sight and hearing, and ability to walk across the room.
  • Lumbar puncture: This test involves the insertion of a needle into the lower spine to remove fluid from around the spinal cord. The doctor may send this fluid to a lab so that it can be tested for signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological disorders.
  • Brain scans: The doctor may use a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get a detailed picture of the brain. These tests can show any areas of the brain that have been damaged due to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Medical history interviews: The doctor may ask you to fill out a questionnaire about your medical history, including any previous head injuries that may have occurred. This information can help the doctor understand how long you’ve had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and whether or not they’re affecting your daily life.

It is important to receive an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s because it can help you prepare for changes in your health and lifestyle. Getting an early diagnosis also allows you to get the best treatment options available.

How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But there are medications and other treatments that can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of this condition. Treatment involves a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes are a first-line treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Patients can reduce their risk of developing the disease by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking and eating a low-fat diet.

It is well-established that exercise helps reduce the risk of dementia and other risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke). A 2019 study published in JAMA Neurology suggests that physical activity slows cognitive decline and causes less brain volume loss.

Medications

Alzheimer’s disease is primarily treated with medications that can temporarily improve symptoms or slow their progression. These include cholinesterase inhibitors, which improve communication between brain cells, and memantine, which helps block some of the harmful effects of glutamate (a neurotransmitter).

However, these treatments do not cure or stop the disease. Not all patients respond to these treatments, and they can have negative side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Rash or itching
  • Changes in mood and behaviour
  • Dizziness.

Some patients discontinue medication because of side effects. This poses a challenge for patients and their doctors. As such, the need for alternative treatment options is clear.

Cannabinoids for dementia: can they help?

There is some evidence that cannabinoids can be beneficial in treating dementia. This is because they have anti-inflammatory, antioxidative and neuroprotective effects.

How do CBD and THC affect the brain?

Cannabinoids like CBD and THC affect the brain through a complex network of receptors known as the endocannabinoid system. This system involves many processes, including appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory.

Cannabinoids also easily pass the blood-brain barrier. In fact, cannabinoids are already being used to treat other brain disorders, such as epilepsy. This makes them a promising treatment option for dementia.

CBD for Alzheimer’s disease

Recent scientific research suggests that CBD can potentially help people with dementia in various ways. From depression to cognitive decline, CBD may offer a host of benefits.

A 2021 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that high doses of CBD can help reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques. As mentioned earlier, these plaques are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, the researchers treated mice models with a two-week course of CBD. After the treatment period, they measured a significant decrease in plaque production. Although the study used an animal model, the results are promising and indicate that CBD may have a role in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, high concentrations of CBD oil may help manage some of the symptoms of dementia, such as agitation and anxiety. An ongoing study to be published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry is testing a high-CBD/low-THC sublingual solution for treating anxiety and agitation in older adults with Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, CBD may reduce inflammation, stimulate the brain and protect the nervous system. A 2020 review published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry suggests that CBD has neuroprotective effects. For Alzheimer’s treatment, the researchers even suggest that CBD may be developed as a new therapeutic candidate for Alzheimer’s disease.

While CBD oil may help keep dementia patients calmer and ensure they’re less prone to aggression, no research suggests that it helps with memory loss.

THC for Alzheimer’s disease

Research suggests that THC could be a potential therapeutic option for Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions and pathways.

A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that low doses of THC can help reduce the buildup of amyloid plaques. In addition, low doses of THC can enhance mitochondria. In effect, this can improve the brain’s energy metabolism and protect against neurotoxicity.

However, long-term THC use has been associated with memory problems. While THC may have therapeutic effects on Alzheimer’s disease, more research is needed to understand the long-term effects and risks fully.

A 2019 review published in the Journal of Pharmacopuncture suggests that CBD and THC together could be more useful than using CBD or THC alone in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Final takeaway – Does cannabis help with dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease is a lifelong disease that can cause significant cognitive impairment, behavioural changes and other health problems. Although this condition has no cure, many treatments are available to help manage symptoms.

Cannabis has been shown to have therapeutic effects on Alzheimer’s disease. The medication’s use in this condition has been linked to slowing of amyloid plaque buildup, decreased agitation and anxiety, and improved sleep. There’s also evidence supporting the neuroprotective function of cannabinoids.

Further studies are needed to better understand how cannabis can be used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, but there is promising evidence that the drug may be helpful for patients with this condition. More research is also needed to fully understand the long-term effects and risks.

If you or your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, talk to your doctor about possible treatments. They may recommend trying cannabis or another medication to see if it helps.

Securing a medical cannabis prescription for dementia can be difficult. At Lyphe, we make it easier by connecting you with a compassionate doctor who can evaluate your health and determine if medical cannabis is right for you.

As the largest and most trusted medical cannabis clinic in the UK, we can connect you with doctors with a wide range of experiences and expertise. Our doctors have helped many patients successfully manage their symptoms of dementia. Book a call today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does CBD help with dementia?

While current data show no evidence of CBD treating dementia, the cannabinoid can help treat symptoms associated with the condition. For example, CBD may help reduce the anxiety, depression and agitation that are often associated with dementia.

How much CBD is right for Alzheimer’s patients?

The amount of CBD a patient needs depends on their symptoms and condition. For example, a person with mild cognitive impairment may only need 10 mg of CBD per day, while someone with advanced Alzheimer’s disease may need up to 600 mg daily.

What herbs fight Alzheimer’s?

Some herbs have been used in clinical settings to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These include turmeric, holy basil, ginkgo biloba and ginseng.

Are cannabinoids good for memory?

Because of its psychoactive effects, long-term use of THC can impair memory and learning. However, studies have shown that CBD does not cause the same kind of impairment.

Do cannabinoids pass the blood-brain barrier?

Both THC and CBD readily pass the blood-brain barrier. As such, their use in treating neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy is well-supported.

References

Cao, C., Li, Y., Liu, H., Bai, G., Mayl, J., Lin, X., … & Cai, J. (2014). The potential therapeutic effects of THC on Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 42(3), 973-984.

Hesam Khodadadi, Évila Lopes Salles, Abbas Jarrahi, Vincenzo Costigliola, MB Khan, Jack C. Yu, John C. Morgan, David C. Hess, Kumar Vaibhav, Krishnan M. Dhandapani, Babak Baban. Cannabidiol Ameliorates Cognitive Function via Regulation of IL-33 and TREM2 Upregulation in a Murine Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2021; http://dx.doi.org/10.3233/JAD-210026

Kim, S. H., Yang, J. W., Kim, K. H., Kim, J. U., & Yook, T. H. (2019). A Review on Studies of Marijuana for Alzheimer’s Disease – Focusing on CBD, THC. Journal of pharmacopuncture, 22(4), 225–230. https://doi.org/10.3831/KPI.2019.22.030

McManus, K., Ash, E., Harper, D., Smith, R., Gruber, S., & Forester, B. (2021). Caring for behavioral symptoms of dementia (CBD): A new investigation into cannabidiol for the treatment of anxiety and agitation in alzheimer’s dementia. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 29(4). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2021.01.107

Rabin JS, Klein H, Kirn DR et al. (2019) Associations of Physical Activity and beta-Amyloid With Longitudinal Cognition and Neurodegeneration in Clinically Normal Older Adults. JAMA Neurol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31312836

Ryan SM, Kelly AM (2016) Exercise as a pro-cognitive, pro-neurogenic and anti-inflammatory intervention in transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. Ageing Res Rev 27, 77-92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27039886

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). How is alzheimer’s disease diagnosed? National Institute on Aging. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-alzheimers-disease-diagnosed

Author: Bojan
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Bojan Ambrus, Head of Marketing & Digital Product at Lyphe Group, is a data-driven growth marketing professional with over 15 years of rich experience. His background includes roles such as Head of Marketing at Vaping.com and growth marketing roles in various enterprises, startups, and scale-ups. His expertise in building and positioning businesses is particularly valuable in the cannabis sector, where he navigates its complexities and regulatory challenges. His strategic marketing insights make Bojan a key player in shaping Lyphe Group's marketing and digital product strategies.

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