Alzheimer’s disease is, unfortunately, one of the most common diseases on earth today. In the United States, approximately 5.5 million, or 1 in 10 over the age of 65, Americans are living with the disease right now. However, the worldwide figure currently stands at around 44 million. This makes it the 7th most common disease across the globe. Interestingly, it is most common in Western Europe and least common in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Almost everyone has experienced the effects of Alzheimer’s disease at some point. It is now the leading cause of dementia globally, and many of us watch grandparents or other elderly relatives who have suffered from the disease. For this reason, it’s no wonder that so much research has been conducted into a possible treatment for the disease which is more effective than those currently available.
Medical cannabis is one such alternative treatment which is currently under much scientific investigation. It is thought that the properties of the plant and the way that they interact with the endocannabinoid system could have a beneficial effect on some of the most debilitating Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, promising as the research may be, many remain skeptical of the use of such a controversial drug.
For many years scientific researchers have been trying to uncover the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, this has been to no avail. Researchers cannot pinpoint the exact cause of the illness. However, they do have some theories which they continue to explore. Unfortunately, none of these theories have been conclusively proven.
It is no secret that Alzheimer’s is the result of brain cell death and deterioration. As a neurodegenerative disease, the death of brain cells is progressive and worsens over time. Why the cells in the brain die like this is unknown. Scientists believe that a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors could be responsible for this phenomenon.
While it’s not yet understood how these factors contribute to the disease, it is believed that they lead to the destruction of connections in the brain. This disruption to the structures in the brain can have long term side effects which impact on some of the core functions of the brain. Memory and learning are the most commonly associated with the disease. However others include:
The effects of Alzheimer’s disease also change as the disease progresses. In the early stages, dementia symptoms such as memory loss are most obvious. However, in the late stages the disease begins to take its toll on the physical functions of the body such as strength, immune function and continence. The nature of the disease means that the symptoms of each stage of Alzheimer’s can last for years.
The current treatments for Alzheimer’s disease leave a lot to be desired. When taken in the early stages, they can be quite effective at slowing the progression of the disease. However, if introduced at a later stage of the disease, they tend to act as a sedative and can only hope to make the Alzheimer’s patient as comfortable as possible. They can not counteract the symptoms themselves.
It appears that there could be a more effective option; medical cannabis or medical marijuana as it is often known. Studies have shown that many of the properties of cannabis could lessen the severity of some of these symptoms. In particular, two of the chemicals found in the plant are thought to be of medical value; tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol (THC and CBD).
These chemicals, also known as cannabinoids, have been found to boost the human body’s endocannabinoid system. It’s a similar effect to that caused in the immune system by vitamin supplements, researchers say. This system is then better able to carry out its functions, some of which are related to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Cannabis has been found to improve appetite in some studies. This could reduce the loss of appetite which is common amongst Alzheimer’s patients, and the dramatic weight loss and deterioration of muscle which follow. It’s also believed that the antibacterial nature of the plant could help to minimize decline of the immune system in Alzheimer’s patients. These are just two examples of a great many effects of cannabis that could benefit those with the disease.
These effects have sparked the curiosity of the Alzheimer’s research community. Researchers have tested both cannabis oil and such as THC and CBD synthetic cannabinoids on mice who have been injected with the disease. The results of these clinical trials have been promising, but it is not yet known how Alzheimer’s disease cannabis treatment would affect human subjects. This research is ongoing.
Taking all of this into consideration, it is easy to see why some people are inclined to support the use of cannabis as a treatment option of Alzheimer’s disease. The data certainly appears to be encouraging, and studies on the safety of the drug have also yielded very positive results. For those who are suffering from the disease, or watching a loved one do so, it could be an attractive option.
However, they should also remember that there is still much to be learned about medical cannabis. It is currently being explored as a potential treatment for a great many conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. And while there is no doubting the medicinal benefits of its use, there is still doubt surrounding the long term effects of it.
Some studies suggest that cannabis could cause anxiety in some patients. Other studies indicate that it can increase the risk of schizophrenia in patients who are genetically predisposed to the condition. Scientists aren’t clear as to exactly how it interacts with pharmaceutical medications. And the variations in strains haven’t been explored fully.
For now, there appears to be little harm in the use of medical cannabis by Alzheimer’s patients as long as it is under the guidance of a medical professional. However, patients should be under no illusions that this remains an absolutely experimental treatment which could have effects on the body that are not yet known.