Cannabinoids are active compounds that have been found in the cannabis plants. The most importantly identified cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes significant alterations of the nervous system functions (psychoactive), and cannabidiol (CBD). Such compounds act on their specific receptors in the body, CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are mostly distributed in the brain and spinal cord, and they may be involved in the regulation of some vital processes that maintain the integrity of nerve cells.
Changes in the regulatory functions of the nervous system would lead to degeneration of nerve cells, an essential feature of dementia. The latter is broadly characterized by loss of memory and changes in the mental functions. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the most common types of dementia. The present study provided an insight on the effects of cannabinoid treatment for dementia.
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Cannabinoid system and the nervous disturbances of dementia
Cannabinoid system in the body (endocannabinoid system) is involved in several important processes. Of them, the main function is potentially the regulation of transmission of the chemical substances between nerve cells and from the nerve cells to muscles. In addition, it has been shown that the activation of CB1 in the body can prevent nerve cell damage by inhibiting the accumulation of toxic substances. Nerve protection is also exhibited by CB2 receptors, where they can reduce the inflammation of nerve cells. The most common features of dementia are the impairment of nerve signal transmission, nerve cell inflammation and degeneration. Since all of these mechanisms are partially or completely alleviated by the cannabinoids, they might be very helpful to the patients with dementia, especially those compounds that activate CB1 receptors.
The use of cannabinoids for the treatment of dementia
The most notable cannabinoid compound that has been evaluated in dementia patients is dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC. More specifically, patients with dementia of the Alzheimer type usually suffer from food refusal, loss of the sense of hunger (causing a marked reduction of body weight), agitation during sleep and some behavioral changes. The results of a relevant clinical trial on 11 patients with severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease demonstrated that dronabinol administration led a significant reduction of nighttime disturbances without observing any harmful side effects. Furthermore, dronabinol may have a beneficial effect on anorexia and the behavioral changes. The effects of therapy were evidenced by the significant increases in the body weight and decreased agitation. However, some patients may experience slight deteriorations in the cognitive functions. In addition, sleepiness, euphoria, and tiredness might be reported but they were not so severe to stop treatment.
Cannabinoid treatment for dementia was successfully implemented in patients with dementia of the Alzheimer type for specific symptoms, such as anorexia, sleep disturbances, and the behavioral changes. More large-scale studies conducted for long-term periods are required in order to investigate the impact of dronabinol and other cannabinoids for the treatment of dementia.