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It has been a long time since the medicinal benefits of cannabinoids have been discovered. However, with the increased knowledge about their mechanism of action through the cannabinoids receptors (CB1 and CB2 receptors), several therapeutic solutions have emerged either by natural cannabinoids or the synthetic chemicals that can affect cannabinoid receptors. Focusing on the nervous system, the abundance of CB1 receptors in the brain has paid the attention to a potential role of cannabinoids in the treatment of incurable diseases. Of them Alzheimer’s represents the most common form of dementia and is characterized by memory and cognitive impairment. Multiple pathological processes are involved in patients with Alzheimer’s that might be targeted by the cannabinoids. This study demonstrated the therapeutic effects of natural and synthetic cannabinoids in the Alzheimer’s disease.
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Effects of cannabinoids on the abnormal proteins in Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease includes the accumulation of abnormal proteins between the brain cells (beta amyloid proteins) as well as the presence of chemically-altered proteins (tau proteins) in dead and dying nerve cells. Studies have shown that synthetic cannabinoids provided a potent protective action for the nerve cells against amyloid beta proteins, leading to improvement of the memory and cognitive functions. Additionally, the results of the experimental data revealed that certain cannabinoid compounds, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and WIN55,212-2, have the potential to inhibit the chemical changes to tau proteins (excessive phosphorylation).
Cannabinoids as anti-inflammatory and nerve signal modulators
Another characteristic feature of Alzheimer’s disease is neuroinflammation due to abnormal abundance of certain cells (microglia cells) which in turn would result in nerve cell damage and toxicity. Several reports demonstrated that a natural mixture of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD can prevent the activation of microglia cells and thus prevent the resultant inflammation. THC can also inhibit the enzyme that break down acetylcholine, facilitating effective nerve signal transmission. However, oral administration of cannabis extract may cause several side effects, including anxiety, euphoria, paranoia, dry mouth.
The clinical efficacy of cannabinoids
Although the efficacy of cannabinoids seems to be promising for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, a few clinical trials and clinical trials are available to study their efficacy. Studies showed that THC and its synthetic derivatives might lead to a marked reduction of the severity of behavioral changes and night-time agitation along with alleviating food refusal that would be associated with the disease. Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, is highly efficacious also in patients unresponsive to well-known anti-psychotic medications. Generally, the reported side effects were limited, including tiredness, somnolence, and euphoria, and they did not require discontinuation of treatment.
Cannabinoids showed an excellent approach for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, targeting multiple abnormal processes that may be involved in disease progression. The use of cannabinoids with high therapeutic potential and minimal side effects may be warranted in the future studies.