When it comes to the endocannabinoid system, it seems to be “essential to a number of molecular and cellular events important for learning and memory.” (1) Alzherimer’s disease is characterised by the progressive mental deterioration of nerve cells that begins in middle to old age and is linked to lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors. Symptoms of dementia include a loss of language, cognitive skills, and memory problems.
Strains of cannabis such as Indica have historically been used to help mediate symptoms and calm patients, new research is showing that the disease is significantly connected to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and, with cannabis medicine experiencing a kind of renaissance, it’s highly likely that medicinal cannabinoids will become more mainstream in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Treatment with cannabis and CBD oil is showing promising benefits for a variety of brain-related diseases, since cannabinoids have the ability to safeguard against the destruction of neural circuits through multiple processes: neutralizing free radicals, improving function of mitochondria, reducing inflammation, clearing of beta amyloid, and clearing away of cellular debris. (2)
The endocannabinoid system is what many would consider the most important system of physiology inside the body; responsible for both regulating and maintaining the health, order and balance of all other systems, from the reproductive, lymphatic, and cardiovascular systems, the ECS is continuously overseeing healthy functioning. When the ECS becomes overwhelmed, states of disease and illness can begin to manifest. This is one reason for the explosion in popularity of CBD oil, as cannabidiol nourishes and supports the ECS by working through and with it. Although CBD was originally an extract from the hemp plant, it can be synthesized in a lab, so be sure to check on how your CBD product is made if you have a preference over natural versus synthetic. CBD oil also has a remarkable safety profile, with side effects being very low.
In 2004, researchers noticed cannabidiol’s (CBD) neuroprotective, antioxidative, and anti-apoptotic effects on the brain that result in a reduction of neurotoxicity caused by amyloid buildup. (3) Scientists noted the synergistic potential of cannabinoids like CBD and THC, where five years later they wrote:
The great therapeutic value of CBD, either given alone or in association with THC, derives from the consideration that it represents a rare, if not unique, compound that is capable of affording neuroprotection by the combination of different types of properties (e.g., anti-glutamatergic effects, anti-inflammatory action, and antioxidant effects) that almost cover all spectra of neurotoxic mechanisms that operate in neurodegenerative disorders (excitotoxicity, inflammatory events, oxidative injury, etc.). (4)
The progression of Alzheimer’s is characterized by the toxic buildup for plaque in the neural tissue and associated inflammation. In 2008, scientists discovered that THC slowed plaque overgrowth, a discovery that was confirmed in later research papers. (5) (6) (2) Furthermore, the scientists found that it has the ability to block inflammation, which damages neurons in the brain.
Dr David Schubert, a senior researcher on the study wrote, “It is reasonable to conclude that there is a therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”
As with all medicinal cannabis use, it is recommended people work with a health care practitioner who has experience in recommending cannabidiol so the delivery method and dosages can be adjusted and developed on a case by case basis. There are cases where the individual who has taken the time to educate themselves on cannabis use can become their own highly aware and informed health consultant, using journaling and taking important notes along the way to assess their results and body-feedback.
As always, it’s recommended that with any cannabis product, the dosage be started low and slow, working the dose up through the titrate method. Those with Alzheimer’s disease will need to take a cautionary approach, slowly increasing the dose up to a standard or macro range to make sure there are minimal psychoactive effects (if using a CBD:THC strain of cannabis). If utilizing a hemp variety of cannabis with low-THC (hemp typically contains less than 0.3%), one can avoid any psychoactive effects due to such low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). For a more relaxing effect, select strains that are high in the terpene myrcene.
When full spectrum CBD oil products are produced with the sedating, indica-dominant variety that have a higher THC level, this can in some cases be helpful for some sleep disorders. A maximum range of 5-10mg of THC per dose is suggested, pending the country you live in and the legal status of cannabis. Avoid products containing sativa-dominant strains as they can promote dissociation and hyperactivity. For safety reasons, vaporized or smoked products are not recommended for patients with advanced dementia.
When high doses are needed, concentrated forms of cannabis oil can be consumed orally, either sublingually under the tongue, in capsule form, or added to food (such as nut butters). The purest, most potent concentrates are made using a CO2-extraction process.
The Cannabis Health Index (CHI) currently rates cannabis effectiveness for Alzheimer’s in the possible-to-probably range based on twenty-five studies (2.5 out of 5 points).
Beyond the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids, several studies show they also have a role in the growth of neural tissue in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory. (7) (8)
Multiple findings in 2014 indicate that the activation of both CB1 and CB2 receptors by natural or synthetic agonists, causing action at non-psychoactive doses, have advantageous effects in experimental models of dementia by causing a reduction in the harmful B-amyloid peptide action and tau phosphorylation, as well as by promoting the brain’s intrinsic repair mechanisms. In one study, the authors wrote, “endocannabinoid signaling has been demonstrated to modulate numerous concomitant pathological processes,” they went on, “including neuroinflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, excitotoxicity, and oxidative stress.” (9) In the same year, a trial in Australia (10) found that cannabidiol treatment was able to reverse cognitive deficits in a study of mice with researchers suggesting that it had therapeutic potential for these impairments. (7)
Hemp oil derived from the hemp variety of cannabis containing a full spectrum of quality cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC, terpenes and fatty acids are growing in necessity and popularity for the support of a variety of health factors affecting memory loss in people such as brain, immune and nervous system health, including for nourishing the endocannabinoid system. A full spectrum hemp oil is different from the supermarket variety of hemp oil, which is mainly used in salads and dressings, and although contains healthful omega fatty acids, is virtually devoid of any cannabinoids.
A study from 2016 of eleven Alzheimer’s patients with tetrahydrocannabinol showed a largely measurable reduction in the severity of symptoms, including agitation, aggression, delusions, and insomnia. (11)
Typically cannabidiol (CBD oil) doesn't produce sedation, which is one of the primary concerns of cannabis use in dementia, however CBD is an isolated product containing the single cannabinoid CBD. Medical marijuana, however, can contain varying levels of cannabinoids and terpenes, so it is important to work with a medical professional who can assist in helping the patient find the right strain and ratio of cannabinoids for their specific condition.
A study in 2019 found that the endocannabinoid system can stop the neuroinflammation and reduce the neurotoxicity that leads to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. (12)
In a 2019 meta-analysis reviewing the available research had researchers conclude that cannabis could treat and prevent Alzheimer’s by suppressing the main causal factors of the disease. They also found that utilizing CBD and THC together, could be more useful than using CBD or THC alone.
There's a plethora of research available surrounding the efficacy and safety of utilizing cannabinoids found in a full spectrum hemp oil or cannabis product for the management of seizures and other brain-related epileptic conditions. As always, speak to your doctor before undertaking any changes to your treatment plan.
The information presented in this article on dementia Alzheimer's related conditions is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, prior to making any changes to your lifestyle or treatment plan, consult with a licenced medical professional.
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