Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that is characterized by memory loss. Memory loss may be so severe that the patient doesn’t even recognize their loved ones. Because Alzheimer’s is such a debilitating disease, patients and physicians are very interested in any new treatment options to treat this disease. CBD has been the focus of many recent clinical studies, and shows some promise as a new treatment for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound from the cannabis sativa or hemp plant. There are more than 80 individual compounds or cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. It is important to note that that CBD does not cause the altered mental state. The “high” is caused by another cannabis compound, THC. In fact, CBD can be used to counteract effects of THC and other drugs.
Cannabis targets the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system has two receptors, CB1 and CB2. These receptors are throughout the brain, and specifically in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The entire endocannabinoid system has at effect on memory, stress, and appetite. Although the brain produces endocannabinoids which bind to the receptors in the endocannabinoid system, sometimes the brain does not produce enough endocannabinoids. CBD binds to both receptors, but it is thought that CBD binding to the CB2 receptor causes it to regulate the system.
Alzheimer’s disease is type of dementia that causes memory loss, problems with critical thinking, and changes in behavior. Alzheimer’s is not the only type of dementia, but between 60 and 80% of dementia cases are Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of getting older, but it is most common in the older population.
The symptoms of AD usually start with forgetfulness or confusion. Some patients realize that they are having memory problems while others don’t recognize that they are having difficulty. The following symptoms may occur over a period of years.
According to the Mayo Clinic, skills such as reading, singing, remembering childhood, etc. are usually the last things that an Alzheimer’s patient loses because the skills and habits learned the earliest in life are usually the last things that they forget as the disease progresses.
Causes. There are a variety of causes that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, but scientists believe it is a combination of genetics, lifestyle and environmental causes. The result is that the disease kills and damages brain cells. A brain with Alzheimer’s cannot function the way a healthy brain functions. There are two abnormalities that scientists have identified: Plaques and tangles. Plaque is a clump of protein called an amyloid clump that may damage and kill brain cells. Tangles are proteins that are twisted into tangles inside the brain cells, which does not allow the brain cells to transport messages.
Risk factors. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age. As people age, the risk increases and then doubles every decade after 60. Family history also plays a role, if you have a relative with Alzheimer’s you have a slightly higher chance of getting the disease. Having Down syndrome increases the risk, as does having any kind of cognitive impairment. Women are more likely to get the disease than men, partly because they live longer. People who or obese, have high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes, don’t exercise or eat fruits and vegetables are at a greater risk for Alzheimer’s.
Treatment. Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease includes both medication and behavior therapy. With behavior therapy, caregivers are taught to keep things as consistent as possible in the patient’s life. Don’t argue and understand that the patient may be irritable. Change is difficult for Alzheimer’s patients, and it may be helpful for them to have a security object like a pillow or blanket.
Medication for memory loss is also part of Alzheimer’s treatment. A variety of medications might be given, including anti-depressants and anti-psychotic prescriptions. Both come with many side effects. One side effect of the anti-psychotics is an increased risk of stroke in dementia patients. These are used as a last resort. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
There is some study-based evidence that CBD can improve the symptoms of dementia. A study from the Salk Institute in California found that cannabis compounds reduced the amount of beta amyloid. Beta amyloid or amyloid clumps are a typical feature in Alzheimer’s, and is thought to cause the disease. Researchers emphasized that although initial results were very positive.
Other studies have focused on treating dementia rather than curing the underlying cause of the disease. There have been relatively few studies done, but one study reported in Neurology researched medical marijuana on dementia symptoms such as aggression, anxiety, depression, insomnia and hallucinations. They divided 50 test subjects into two groups with one group receiving a medical marijuana pill and one group getting a placebo. Both groups took the pills three times a day for three weeks. At the end of the study period, the symptoms of both groups were assessed, and researchers found no difference.
Another study had opposite results. In this study published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers reported that cannabis extract oil can relieve these very same symptoms of AD. A very small study in Tel Aviv followed 11 Alzheimer’s patients who used cannabis oil to treat symptoms for four weeks, and noted that patients did have a reduction in their symptoms with few side effects.
Confusion continues as to whether CBD or cannabis compounds can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, or to even treat symptoms of AD. The confusion is caused by the fact that most studies in this area to date have been very small, or do not have the controls needed to make them a credible study.
Doctors and Alzheimer’s support organizations are eagerly waiting more conclusive study on the subject, as the initial results have been promising. As study continues, more results should give us a better picture of how CBD and cannabis compounds can be beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients.