Medical Marijuana and Alzheimer’s: What’s The Connection

An Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis can be a painful discovery for a patient and their loved ones. While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, a variety of treatments can be used to make a patient more comfortable. Medical Marijuana is one of these treatments. 


What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that causes memory loss and cognitive impairment. Dementia refers to a loss of cognitive abilities, problems with remembering, and struggles with daily life and activities. Dementia isn’t considered a normal part of aging, even though many older adults do experience symptoms.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that gets worse with time. Alzheimer’s may start out with some mild memory loss, and in later stages it can become difficult for the patient to communicate and function.

No approved cures for Alzheimer’s currently exist, but there are options to treat the symptoms. Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are typically prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs may help reduce some symptoms and help control some behavioral symptoms. 


How is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed and Treated? 

To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, a doctor conducts tests to assess memory impairment and other thinking skills, judge functional abilities, and identify any behavior changes. The doctor will also typically perform a series of tests to rule out other possible causes of impairment. 

A doctor who suspects a patient has Alzheimer’s may treat the patient for other health conditions, such as depression or hearing and vision loss. These steps may help to lengthen the amount of time a patient can be independent and care for themselves before the inevitable decline.


How Might Cannabis Help? 

When you use cannabis, cannabinoids make their way to the bloodstream attaching themselves to the endocannabinoid system’s (ECS) cannabinoid receptors, CB1, and CB2. In the brain, these receptors are concentrated in neurons associated with memory, thinking, and coordination. Research suggests that when THC binds to the CB receptors, it may affect aging brains. Its apparent ability to help the body remove amyloid-beta accumulation is massive news for Alzheimer’s patients. Cannabis, or is thought to have the ability to remove clumps of amyloid-beta protein (a toxic component that builds up like a plaque in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients) from the brain. 

According to current research, medical marijuana may play a part in disrupting the neurodegenerative process that drives the disease’s progression. A 2019 review of current research on dementia aimed to understand current trends. The study summarized findings that the CBD components of cannabis might be useful to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s. CBD is suspected to be able to suppress the main causal factors of Alzheimer’s. Research further suggested that using CBD and THC together could be more useful than using CBD or THC alone (entourage effect).

In another recent study by the National Library of Medicine, researchers found that CBD has potential as a therapy to help curb cognitive decline and alleviate some Alzheimer’s symptoms. They looked at the protein interleukin 33 (IL-33) and found that at high levels, it has been linked to beta-amyloid buildup, a biomarker of Alzheimer’s. The TREM-2 protein, encoded by the TREM-2 gene, is also linked to the neurodegenerative disease. Certain mutations in TREM2 strongly increase risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s. According to the study authors, research suggests that both the IL-33 and TREM-2 proteins are affected by CBD in a way that helps brain cell communication. 


What Type of Cannabis Should Alzheimer’s Patients Take? 

Cannabis contains over 60 different compounds, many of which are proving to have important health properties for disease treatment. So far, studies have shown specific abilities of certain cannabis compounds to target brain abnormalities in Alzheimer’s disease patients. 

CBD has natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic and sedative properties. Neurological studies on CBD have shown that it can help slow the process of cell death, known as apoptosis. Used in combination with THC, it has shown promise in reducing oxidative injury, inflammatory events and other mechanisms that help contribute to degeneration of the brain. This means CBD can help Alzheimer’s patients by preventing healthy brain cells from dying off.

The cannabis strain you use to combat Alzheimer’s may be more effective if it has the proper THC/CBD ratio. An improper rate can aggravate involved brain receptors and may cause harm. Way of Leaf recommends these five strains, but be sure you talk with your care team about selecting a medical marijuana product that’s right for you or the Alzheimer’s patient you’re caring for.


Can Cannabis Cause Alzheimer’s?

A few small research studies in the past decade reported that small amounts of the THC component of marijuana may have an effect on the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s. One 2018 study claims cannabis use may cause accelerated brain aging, but experts say the findings appear to “prioritize marketing over science.” There is no compelling scientific evidence that cannabis use can cause dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. 


If you are a caregiver for a patient with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, your role in managing daily tasks will increase as the disease progresses. If your care team recommends medical marijuana for the Alzheimer’s patient you care for, Duber Medical can help with the procedure necessary for obtaining a legal cannabis card and caregiver status that will afford you the right to purchase the medicine from a state dispensary.  We can help walk you through the process in a caring and compassionate manner. Reach out to us today. 


Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca

Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.

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