25 Jan Cannabis offers glimmer of hope in Alzheimer’s treatment
With at least half a million Canadians suffering from dementia and that total expected to increase by 66 per cent in 14 years, it’s easy to feel pessimistic about our prospects in combating the most common form of dementia — Alzheimer’s. But there is some reason to be optimistic.
New ways to treat the neurodegenerative disease have been introduced in recent years and researchers are constantly looking for others. Moreover, some of the newest studies suggest cannabis could be used to treat Alzheimer’s in a number of ways.
Last summer, researchers at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California found that THC, a psychoactive component of cannabis, was able to remove the plaque that clogs the brain and kills its cells. (This plaque is easy to spot in brain scans of Alzheimer’s patients.)
The researchers also discovered that THC reduced the inflammation caused by the plaque. These findings were in line with those of previous studies that showed cannabinoids played a role in reducing inflammation in the central nervous system.
The Salk researchers’ findings have not yet been tested in clinical trials but they are optimistic. “It is reasonable to conclude that there is a therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease,” says David Schubert, senior author of the Salk study.
Cannabis shows promise in treating Alzheimer’s symptoms
In a small study conducted six months earlier, Israeli researchers found that THC helped reduce behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia such as agitation, aggression, apathy and delusions. The researchers concluded that “adding medical cannabis oil to Alzheimer’s patients’ pharmacotherapy is a safe and promising treatment option.”
Roger Ferreira, a neuroimmunologist who has studied brain inflammation caused by neurodegenerative disease and stroke, says he is encouraged that in jurisdictions where the use of medical marijuana is legal, “cannabis is starting to be used as an alternative pharmacological therapy for agitation related to Alzheimer’s.
“This is especially promising since first-line pharmacological treatments like antipsychotics, sedatives and anxiolytics only display limited efficacy with a number of associated safety and tolerability risks,” says Ferreira, who is also CEO of Beleave.
Of course, the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is a controversial topic in medical circles. Some physicians are singing its praises while others are concerned about possible addictive properties and long-term effects. Still, scientists are forging ahead in the exploration of cannabis’ as a potential treatment for conditions — and there is a growing body of evidence that it works.