Medical Cannabis For Dementia: What We Know So Far05 October 2022
- The use of medical cannabis for dementia is gaining popularity. It’s not a cure, but it can help with symptoms and other side effects.
- Based on survey data, more dementia patients and caregivers choose cannabis because they see improvement in the overall quality of life.
- People with dementia may find relief from nausea, anxiety and depression. Small-scale clinical studies have found that cannabis may improve memory function, cognitive performance, and attention.
- Most studies on cannabis dementia treatment administered medication containing both THC and CBD. A THC-CBD showed promise in treating agitation and irritability.
- Still, more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of cannabis for dementia.
Dementia is a chronic and progressive condition that causes various ailments in cognitive performance. These include memory loss, difficulties with think and reasoning, personality changes and more.
The severity of dementia can vary significantly among patients. Some experience mild cognitive impairment. Others have severe dementia and may lose their ability to walk, talk, eat and care for themselves.
Unfortunately, there are limited currently available therapeutic options. Both medical practitioners and caregivers are looking at cannabis as one of the potential alternative treatments for dementia.
Several studies have outlined the pros and cons of the use of cannabis on dementia. And so let’s look at them in turn.
What is dementia, and how it affects patients?
Dementia is a clinical syndrome associated with progressive deterioration in cognitive function. It is a widespread condition that can affect anyone and is often diagnosed in patients aged over 65 years old.
One in three people born in the UK will develop dementia during their lifetime. There are currently around 944,000 people with dementia living here—but that number is projected to rise more than 30 per cent by 2050.
Though the diagnosis of dementia is complicated, it is generally agreed that the condition shows the following symptoms:
- A decline in memory
- A decline in language skills, such as speaking fluently and understanding what is said
- Difficulty with planning and organising tasks
- Difficulty with problem-solving and decision making
In more severe or later-stage cases, dementia may lead to even more complications like:
- Difficulty with walking or moving around
- Difficulty with eating and swallowing
- Disorientation and confusion
Dementia can occur at any age, but it is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 65 and 75. It is often preceded by milder forms of cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating, for several months or even years before reaching this stage.
Dementia and its different types
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of all cases. This condition is often characterised by memory loss that gets worse over time. Other symptoms may include confusion, changes in personality and mood and trouble performing daily tasks.
There are other types of dementia as well. They include:
- vascular dementia
- dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
- frontotemporal dementia
- young-onset dementia
What is shared among all types is the presence of neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS), like:
- confusion and wandering
- sleep disorders
- depression and anxiety
- agitation and aggression
- behavioural and personality changes.
How is dementia treated?
At the moment, there is no cure for dementia. But some treatments can help with some of the symptoms, such as medication, rehabilitation (physical therapy and occupational therapy) and social support.
Treatment for dementia is broken down into two levels of intervention:
- First-line treatment is aimed at improving memory and thinking skills. The aim is to slow down the progression of the disease with lifestyle changes, physical exercise, social interaction and more.
- Second-line treatment involves treating symptoms like agitation and behavioural problems with illicit substances. The medication (antipsychotic) aims to calm down a patient who may be at the harm of injuring themselves or others.
There are currently no medications approved for consistently treating dementia. Doctors and caregivers are left with limited options when it comes to treatment medicine.
Some doctors may prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. However, a common problem with Persons with Dementia (PwDs) is that they do not want to take these medications.
Some perceive the second-line treatment as mind-numbing and useless. This can be a real problem for patients who need treatment for depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
Anecdotally, some clinics have turned to alternative therapies such as acupuncture or meditation sessions. These therapies can be helpful for PwDs, but they are not a long-term solution. A better solution could be a safe and effective medication for treating dementia symptoms.
What is driving interest in cannabis treatment for dementia?
Given the limited currently available therapeutic options, there is a need for alternative therapies in the growing population of dementia patients. Furthermore, there have been reports of dementia patients refusing to take their medication because of the side effects.
In light of these concerns, medical cannabis oil for dementia is considered an alternative to standard treatment. There is some evidence that medical cannabis could help with symptoms of cognitive impairment.
In fact, some studies have shown that CBD can improve one’s memory and attention span by enhancing brain activity in some areas of the brain. Meanwhile, THC could address behavioural changes and sleep disturbances by reducing anxiety and improving mood.
Medical cannabis is not a cure for dementia, but it can help with some symptoms. Medical cannabis could be another option in this toolbox of treatments available now and in the future.
More research is required to confirm its effectiveness. However, preclinical and clinical trials show promising results.
How does medical cannabis affect the brain?
Medical cannabis has been shown to have a wide range of effects on the brain. The primary compounds in cannabis, mainly THC and CBD, interact with a group of receptors known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is found in almost every area of the human body and has a role in many processes, including:
- pain perception
- memory formation
- regulation of sleep cycles
- immune system function
- appetite regulation
The ECS strongly influences the function of one’s nervous system. It’s believed that by activating this system, medical cannabis works to improve the many functions impacted by dementia.
Medical cannabis may be effective in treating neuropsychiatric symptoms
Cannabis is being investigated as an option to treat the various neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with dementia. The medication’s ability to relieve stress, anxiety and depression could help manage symptoms of this disease.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers found that adding medical cannabis oil (MCO) to a patient’s regular treatment is safe and promising.
Though no significant changes were reported, the researchers recommended that further studies be made to determine the effectiveness of MCO as a treatment for neuropsychiatric symptoms.
A 2019 review published by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health reported that medical cannabis might treat various dementia symptoms like:
- aberrant motor behaviour
- nocturnal behaviour disorder
- aberrant vocalisation and resting care
All these symptoms have links to the way one’s nervous system functions. Furthermore, the researchers found slight improvements in cognitive performance as assessed by an examination.
In the same review, the researchers administered cannabis oil for dementia containing both THC and CBD. Patients had their cannabis medication infused in an edible to make it easier to dose. The CBD in their dosages was twice as concentrated as the amount of THC.
Cannabis for dementia could be beneficial for both dementia patients and their caregivers
In another review released in 2020, researchers reported that informal caregivers provided dementia patients with cannabis. The researchers reported that patients showed improved outcomes in terms of agitation, sleep disturbances and other problematic secondary symptoms.
Aside from the neuropsychiatric improvements, many caregivers report the following changes after cannabis treatment:
- an improvement in overall quality of life
- better caregiver-patient relationships
- an improvement in the patient’s ability to complete daily tasks and activities
- a reduction in caregiver stress
More interestingly, many caregivers who informally prescribed THC and CBD for Alzheimer’s to their patients started using the medication too. The caregivers reported that cannabis could improve their moods and make them feel better when dealing with dementia patients.
Cannabis helps reduce the agitation that is commonly associated with dementia. It does so by providing patients with an alternative way of coping with their condition, which may reduce the risk of them becoming aggressive or violent towards others.
In the field of medicine, caregivers are often overlooked as they are not officially part of the treatment team or are even directly involved in patient care. However, caregivers play a crucial role in patients’ lives with Alzheimer’s disease.
The same review found that it was beneficial for caregivers who may need to interact regularly with patients suffering from dementia-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
Cannabis for dementia patients is generally safe and tolerable for short-term use
Despite the current uncertainty around the effectiveness of CBD and THC in treating dementia, researchers have determined that cannabis is generally safe and well-tolerated.
There are no serious side effects associated with the use of cannabis, and most users report few or no adverse reactions. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that it was safe for patients to use THC and CBD supplements. A CBD-THC medication for dementia did not cause cognitive impairment or increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
However, the long-term effects of these treatments are still under question. Cannabis use, in general, may cause problems down the road if it is used at high doses and for long periods.
Long-term cannabis use is linked to poorer cognitive function in the mid-age, a 2022 study found. Declining brain activity is one of the risk factors for dementia.
It’s important to note that the study looked at individuals who smoked and used cannabis frequently and recreationally. The study did not include patients who took medical cannabis in a controlled environment with specific dosages.
The future of cannabis for the treatment of dementia
As it stands, we still have much to learn about how cannabis can be used to treat dementia and its many symptoms. The future of cannabis for the treatment of dementia is promising, and we are likely to see more studies in this area as time goes on.
There’s a growing interest in using cannabis for alternative treatment. Dementia, with its limited therapeutic options for patients, is a prime candidate for these treatments. In the future, we may see cannabis-based therapies that can help patients with dementia to manage their symptoms more effectively.
In fact, new research is on the way. The Alzheimer’s Society has funded research into how endocannabinoids affect mood and anxiety in dementia. The ongoing research will also examine whether synthetic cannabinoid nabilone can treat agitation associated with Alzheimer’s.
Conclusion – Is Cannabis Good For Dementia?
Medical cannabis is another complementary or alternative care form for Persons with Dementia (PwD). In addition to its potential benefits for improving some symptoms of dementia, cannabis has also been reported as an effective treatment for neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with dementia.
However, there is a need for a well-designed randomised controlled trial to confirm the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with dementia and is considering using cannabis as a treatment option, it’s essential to talk to your doctor first.
At Lyphe, we have a team of doctors and other medical professionals who can help you make the right decision for your health. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch with us today or book your online consultation now.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can CBD be used for dementia?
Some research suggests that high concentrations of CBD oil could help manage some symptoms associated with dementia, such as agitation and anxiety.
Do CBD gummies help with memory?
Though still in its infancy, recent studies report that CBD can help improve memory and cognitive performance. The medication may also help with attention and focus.
How much CBD is needed for dementia?
One study found that a 15-45 mg of CBD dose to dementia patients decreased symptoms of the syndrome. Still, more research is needed to determine the ideal dose for this condition.
Does CBD affect cognitive function?
CBD does not appear to affect the cognitive function of healthy individuals. On the flip side, some studies show that the medication can improve cognitive performance among individuals with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Which CBD oil is best for dementia?
Currently, CBD oil is not a formally approved treatment for dementia. That said, it is still best to get professional advice directly from a specialist if you consider taking CBD for this syndrome.
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