Can a Cannabis-Based Drug Help Treat Dementia?

Kimberly Clark is a blogger and content specialist focused on the cannabis space.

Medical cannabis is legal in several US states and UK, while recreational along with medical is federally legal in Uruguay and Canada. Viewing that, pharmaceuticals are exploring options of making cannabis-based drugs to treat several illnesses.

A recent approach is to study the effects of Sativex drug, approved by the UK, to treat pain and multiple sclerosis. It is a mouth spray containing both THC and CBD compound. The King’s College London in the UK is going to run a research on the drug’s effect on symptoms of agitation and aggression in dementia patients.  

This article will explore the possibilities of using cannabis as a viable treatment alternative for dementia.

 

Causes and Symptoms of Dementia

 

Before moving on to how cannabis can treat dementia, let’s understand more about the condition.

Dementia is a syndrome where the individual experience gradual deterioration in cognitive processes such as thinking, memory, and social capacities. It becomes severe when it hampers your normal life functioning. The condition may be a cause of a set of different diseases, mostly Alzheimer's that accounts for 60-80% of the cases.

It happens when there is damage to the nerve cells that impairs signaling in the brain. The severity and symptoms differ according to the affected area in the brain. There are over 50 million people in the world living with the condition. Experts fear that the numbers might increase up to 70 million by the year 2030. Furthermore, the risks of dementia among women are more than men. Two-third of dementia patients in the U.S are female, and those over 60 are twice more at risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease due to breast cancer.  

 

The reasons why the disease affect women more than men because:

 

●      Women are more likely to develop depression, which associates with triggering Alzheimer's.

●      Complications during pregnancy or menopause can cause cognitive impairment in older age.

●      When the estrogen hormone levels, responsible for effective cognitive functioning, drops down due to old age, it increases the chances of dementia.       

●      Women who are caregivers tend to develops the risks for the disease.

 

Some common symptoms of Dementia are:

 

●      Memory loss

●      Difficulty in finding words

●      Visual impairment

●      Difficulties in solving problems

●      Trouble in coordination

●      Anxiety and depression

●      Hallucinations

●      Agitation

 

Cannabis Affect on Cognitive Process

 

Cannabis contains over 100 cannabinoids having different chemical compositions. The two most prominent ones are THC or tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD or cannabidiol. THC is the dominant one responsible for psychoactive effects to make you feel relaxed on ingestion.

CBD does not have psychoactive properties and hence will not have intoxication effects on consumption. User incline towards it for its medicinal benefits and the potential to treat several physical ailments. Some industries are opening up to infusing the compound in their products such as CBD beauty products, CBD edibles, drinkables, etc.  

It interacts with the human system through the endocannabinoids, a group of cell receptors, our body naturally produces. These regulate human physiological and cognitive processes like mood, appetite, pain sensitivity, memory, motor coordination, temperature, and fertility. The chemical compound in cannabis binds with these receptors to regulate these bodily functions.

Again, these receptors are abundant in the brain. When the amalgamation with the herb takes place, it alters the communication process within the brain cells. That is how it improves memory, learning, and mood swings.

The statements on how cannabis affects the human mind are contradictory. However, a recent Harvard study claims that medical cannabis can improve cognitive functioning. It further states that anxiety can impede attention and cognition. When medical cannabis can treat anxiety, it consequently improves mental performance.     

 

Possibilities of Cannabis-based Drugs

 

The implication of cannabis for treating dementia would include both THC and CBD properties. THC is effective in treating anxiety, depression, pain, insomnia, while CBD restrains the psychoactive effects of the former. That creates the prospects of administering the two together rather than only one.   

Photo by    Gesina Kunkel    on    Unsplash

The tests of Sativex administration on subjects aged 55-90 would compare with those taking a placebo. Based on this research report, there will be a further clinical trial to help determine the effects of the drug on people with the condition.

For now, some preliminary studies on cannabis shows that its compounds, including THC, can remove amyloid, the clumps of protein caused due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study indicates that Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid drug for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, could reduce aggression and anxiety in people with Alzheimer's disease.

 Also, Dronabinol is now being tested to treat agitation and aggression in Alzheimer’s disease. It is an appetite stimulant and anti-nausea drug available in the form of capsules.   

Taking the possibility further, a study on mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms of the disease showed improvement in learning on administering THC and CBD oil.       

If you wish to grow cannabis, pick for sativa strains having stress-relieving properties such as strawberry cough. Anyone going through the syndrome’s difficulties can get strawberry cough seeds at ILGM to help deal with the issues.    

Please Note: Consult a healthcare professional, before self-administering cannabis products.

 

The Alzheimer Society’s Take on It

 

The urgent need to develop a drug to help treat diseases causing dementia is real. Although the first preference is always to exempt synthetic medications, there is a necessity of these in several cases. Further, experts indicate the impact of cannabis on a normal brain might differ in those with the disease. It can either have positive or negative effects.

Agitation is one common behavioral symptom of dementia. Some clinical trials do confirm the potential of cannabis-based drugs in treating behavioral symptoms of dementia. However, the same also showed that patients experience sedation side effects after use.

The Alzheimer’s society understands the lack of evidence on the efficacy of cannabis, yet, hopefully, such studies can lead medical science to some conclusion. The society urges the general practitioners to wait for the research results before recommending cannabis to treat dementia.   

Whatever the outcome is, a large section of users advocate the cultivation of auto-flowering seeds to treat symptoms of Alzheimer's and Dementia.  

 

Conclusion

 

Dealing with such critical condition brings stress to the patient and those close to them. It is challenging for medical science to think of a solution without conducting experiments. Anecdotal pieces of evidence exhibit the herb’s healing properties, but without objective facts proving the same will make them invalid. Until then, those living with dementia and their family can look for alternative solutions to treat the issue.