As of 2018, about 50 million people worldwide were living with dementia, a number projected to increase to 152 million by 2050 . Dementia is a broad term that doesn’t refer to a particular disease but encompasses a range of conditions marked by difficulties in remembering, thinking, or decision-making, hindering everyday activities .
Alzheimer’s disease stands out as the most prevalent form of dementia. While dementia primarily impacts older adults, it’s important to note that it is not a natural aspect of the aging process. There is a pressing demand for innovative treatments targeting Alzheimer’s disease . There is growing interest in exploring cannabinoids like delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) due to their potential anti-inflammatory effects.
What is Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?
Dementia is a general term used to describe a group of cognitive disorders that affect memory, thinking, and the ability to perform everyday activities . It is not a specific disease itself, but rather a collective term for a set of symptoms associated with a decline in cognitive function. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but there are also other forms. The specific symptoms and progression of dementia can vary depending on the underlying cause.
Common symptoms of dementia include memory loss, difficulty in problem-solving, impaired communication and language skills, and challenges with motor functions . As the condition progresses, individuals with dementia may experience personality changes, mood swings, and difficulty in performing basic activities of daily living.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a persistent neurodegenerative condition that results in gradual cognitive decline among the elderly, representing the predominant cause of dementia globally . The primary pathological aspects of Alzheimer’s involve diminishing neurons in the hippocampus and cortex, accumulation of amyloid peptides and hyperphosphorylated tau, and the emergence of a neuroinflammatory environment which is believed to exacerbate neuronal loss.
Alzheimer’s disease manifests initially as short-term memory loss, progressing to mild cognitive impairment and eventually evolving into dementia within a few years of diagnosis. Along with cognitive decline and memory loss, patients also experience problems such as disruptions in sleep patterns, mood disorders, and visual and hearing impairments, ultimately compromising fundamental functions and leading to fatality.
Diagnosis and management of dementia typically involve a thorough medical evaluation, including cognitive assessments, imaging studies, and sometimes laboratory tests . While there is no cure for most types of dementia, early diagnosis and appropriate care and support can help improve the quality of life for individuals affected by the condition. Treatment strategies may include medication, cognitive therapy, and support for both the affected individuals and their caregivers.
Medical Cannabis for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Research in mice has shown that CBD can activate a pathway in cells (Wnt/β-catenin) to protect them from Aβ neurotoxicity and oxidative stress . This activation helps increase cell survival, decrease the production of harmful ROS, lower lipid peroxidation, prevent hyperphosphorylation of tau protein, inhibit AChE, and promote the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. Adding THC to CBD appeared to enhance effects that may help treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
In a 2023 study, another mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease was used to explore the effects of a 28-day treatment with low doses of the cannabinoids CBD or THC, or a combination of both CBD and THC . The THC-treated mice exhibited negative effects of anxiety and depression, but the group treated with both CBD and THC showed improvements in spatial memory.
Researchers observed that CBD and THC, or a combination of both, have different effects. However, both cannabinoids appear to play a role in processing amyloid peptides. While this animal study paints a hopeful picture, there is very little human research on the potential benefits of medical cannabis for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Limited findings from a single systematic review and an uncontrolled before-and-after study suggest that medical cannabis may show effectiveness in addressing neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with dementia . These symptoms include agitation, disinhibition, irritability, aberrant motor behavior, nocturnal behavior disorders, aberrant vocalization, and resting care.
The systematic review presented evidence from four primary studies, with the remaining eight studies not providing clear evidence for the efficacy of cannabinoids in dementia treatment. Uncertainties arise from the overall low quality of evidence and the uncontrolled nature of the before-and-after study, which was a nonrandomized pilot involving 10 dementia patients. The pilot study reported descriptive outcomes without statistical analysis. Notably, no clinical guidelines for the use of medical cannabis in dementia treatment were identified.
Another examination of scientific studies on cannabidiol (CBD) for dementia revealed more varied outcomes . In the context of anorexia and agitation in dementia, five studies were conducted. One study employed dronabinol (synthetic THC pharmaceutical) at a dosage of 5 mg/day to address anorexic symptoms in dementia, resulting in a positive impact on weight.
The outcomes of two trials assessing the efficacy of 1.5 to 4.5 mg/day of THC for agitation showed no significant differences compared to a placebo. A more recent trial demonstrated a noteworthy reduction in agitation using nabilone (synthetic THC pharmaceutical) at a daily dosage of 1 to 2 mg. However, it’s essential to note that these studies had limited participant numbers and did not utilize robust analytical methods.
Taken as a whole, this research shows that while cannabinoids likely have some properties that may benefit dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but much is still unknown. The observations of these studies seem to point towards CBD or a combination of CBD and THC as opposed to high-THC marijuana.
If you are considering using medical cannabis for dementia, it is important to work closely with a doctor. This is especially important because CBD and THC can have interactions with other medications that a person may be taking and may not be safe to use in combination.
Best Cannabis Strains for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
While most Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients will likely favor a tincture or edible form of cannabis, there are some who may seek out an inhaled product that has a faster activation time and more potent delivery. In either case, it is important to work closely with doctors when considering cannabis for dementia and Alzheimer’s since older patients need more consideration and are likely to have more complex health factors.
- Charlotte’s Web
Charlotte’s Web, a hemp strain, has played a crucial role in redirecting attention towards the therapeutic aspects of cannabis. With its high CBD levels and low THC content, it offers a practical option for those seeking the potential benefits of cannabinoids without the associated intoxication. Whether you’re an experienced hemp enthusiast or a newcomer exploring the realm of CBD, Charlotte’s Web stands as a dependable and widely respected choice. Notably recognized for its efficacy in alleviating seizures, particularly in certain forms of epilepsy, users have also reported positive effects in promoting calmness and easing discomfort. Charlotte’s Web features a mild herbal and woody flavor, accompanied by subtle citrus notes. The strain’s primary terpenes include myrcene, pinene, and caryophyllene.
- Girl Scout Cookies Hemp
The cannabis strain Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) was bred from OG Kush and Durban Poison. While most people know about the high THC marijuana version, there is also a CBD-dominant version of Girl Scout Cookies that is very low in THC. This potent hemp flower is renowned for its relaxing indica properties. It provides a calming experience that is not heavily sedating or intoxicating so it can be enjoyed during the day and evening. CBD-rich Girl Scout Cookies boasts a diverse array of terpenes, with caryophyllene emerging as the most prominent. GSC hemp flower has a sensory profile that is earthy and spicy.
- Blue Orchid
Blue Orchid CBD hemp flower is a finely balanced hybrid strain with a perfect mix of 50% indica and 50% sativa genetics. Created through the crossbreeding of Blue Dynamite and Ringo’s Gift, Blue Orchid inherits the best qualities from its parent strains. The result is a seamless blend of relaxation and uplifting effects, making it suitable for both daytime and evening use. Blue Orchid features a noteworthy natural terpene profile, highlighted by a delightful blend of ocimene, myrcene, caryophyllene, and pinene. These terpenes not only contribute to its captivating aroma but also enhance the overall therapeutic experience. With an impressive CBD content, Blue Orchid delivers a soothing and calming experience without the typical psychoactive effects associated with THC. This makes it an excellent choice for those seeking the benefits of CBD without any undesired intoxication.
- Berry Blossom
Berry Blossom, a CBD-rich hemp variety, was intricately developed by crossing Cherry Kandahar with Chardonnay. The scent of Berry Blossom is truly exceptional, introducing a sweet and fruity essence that evokes images of ripe berries. Upon consumption, Berry Blossom delivers a delightful blend of berry-like sweetness paired with subtle herbal undertones, creating a smooth and appealing flavor profile. This delightful taste experience harmonizes with the strain’s primary terpenes caryophyllene, limonene, and pinene, resulting in a well-rounded and enjoyable sensation. Known for its elevated CBD content and minimal THC presence, Berry Blossom is celebrated for its ability to induce a sense of calm and relaxation without causing disorienting effects. It has gained recognition among medical cannabis users seeking relief from symptoms of anxiety, stress, pain, and inflammation.
The hemp strain referred to as “The Wife,” or simply “Wife,” stands out as a high-CBD variant with an impressive 20:1 CBD to THC ratio. What sets apart this CBD-rich strain is its renowned ability to induce a deep sense of relaxation and its distinctive floral cherry flavor. The delightful flavor profile is the outcome of a well-balanced combination of major terpenes, including myrcene, pinene, and caryophyllene, along with minor terpenes such as limonene, humulene, linalool, and bisabolol. The primary and most prominent effect of the Wife strain is a potent wave of tranquility that envelops users, accompanied by an enhanced sense of calm and soothing relief from bodily aches and discomfort.
- Arnanz, M. A., Ruiz de Martín Esteban, S., Martínez Relimpio, A. M., Rimmerman, N., Tweezer Zaks, N., Grande, M. T., & Romero, J. (2023). Effects of Chronic, Low-Dose Cannabinoids, Cannabidiol, Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and a Combination of Both, on Amyloid Pathology in the 5xFAD Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/can.2023.0101
- CDC. What Is Dementia? (2023). https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html
- Charernboon, T., Lerthattasilp, T., & Supasitthumrong, T. (2021). Effectiveness of cannabinoids for treatment of dementia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Clinical Gerontologist, 44(1), 16-24. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07317115.2020.1742832
- 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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6970569/
- Peprah, K., & McCormack, S. (2019). Medical cannabis for the treatment of dementia: a review of clinical effectiveness and guidelines. https://www.cadth.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/htis/2019/RC1152%20Cannabis%20for%20Adults_Dementia%20Final.pdf