Like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disorder that commonly affects elderly people. In fact, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s share a few common characteristics—including relatively safe treatment with marijuana.
Here’s what you need to know about taking cannabis to treat Alzheimer’s disease. If you know someone with the disease, this may just give you some fresh ideas about how you can help them regain some normalcy in their daily lives.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating degenerative disorder and the most common form of dementia. The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65, but the disease also affects younger people in the form of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
It’s irreversible and causes permanent deterioration of memory, motor functions and thought processes. Although initial symptoms may be mild, the disease worsens over time.
Some changes that may occur in any stage of Alzheimer’s disease can include:
- Limited cognitive abilities: Functions including decision-making, speech and language, memory and communication decline.
- Mood and emotions: People with Alzheimer’s tend to disassociate themselves from social situations and may appear disinterested.
- Motor functions: Coordination, mobility and even performing simple tasks like getting dressed, preparing food and shopping become incredibly difficult.
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, but the process affecting the brain is better understood. Basically, two things take place in the brains of Alzheimer patients:
- Tangles of fibres of the tau protein form inside the brain cells to cause the death of those cells.
- Beta-amyloid protein fragments form plaque clusters that build up between cells, blocking communication from one cell to another.
How Do Alzheimer’s Patients Treat the Disease?
Sadly, there’s still no known cure for the disease. So what can be done? There are quite a few pharmaceutical drugs currently used to treat Alzheimer’s that work by inhibiting AChE, an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters that help with functions like memory. However, these drugs come with unwanted side effects like gastrointestinal problems and liver damage.
Some aspects of Alzheimer’s disease can be treated and improved through a healthy diet, moderate exercise, therapy—and as recent research suggests, cannabis.
The Science Behind How Cannabis Can Alleviate Alzheimer’s Symptoms
The cannabis plant has two major cannabinoids, tetrahrydrocannabinol (TH) and cannabidiol (CBD). These components, along with around 100 other cannabinoids, interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to influence different processes. Cannabis is popular for creating the sensations of euphoria, but its many components also influence other parts of the body.
For people with Alzheimer’s disease, both the psychoactive chemical THC and the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD may be useful in easing the symptoms and effects of dementia. A 2008 study shows that THC is therapeutic as it prevents protein buildup, thereby stopping the symptoms and progressive worsening of Alzheimer’s disease.
THC has also been shown to remove the plaque that builds up in between the brain cells, blocking critical communication.
Other benefits that make cannabis a promising alternative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Providing neuroprotection
- Reducing neuroinflammation
- Supporting the brain’s natural repair mechanisms
- Reducing the buildup of tau proteins that destroy cells
- Increasing appetite (weight loss and lack of appetite are major problems for Alzheimer’s patients)
- Improving mood and behaviour with less irritation, agitation and frustration
- Not interfering with other medications, therapies or recommended exercise plans
On the behavioural side of things, the University of Toronto carried out a study to show that cannabis may help lower levels of agitation in Alzheimer’s patients. A 14-week trial period involving adults with mild to severe Alzheimer’s showed that a synthetic cannabinoid called nabilone improved behavioural symptoms and reduced agitation without unwanted side effects.
Recommended Cannabis Strains for Alzheimer’s Patients
THC is a psychoactive compound that could intensify aggression and anxiety in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A hybrid strain with balanced THC and CBD compounds is a safer choice as CBD helps lessen the psychoactive effects of THC. This way, Alzheimer’s patients can get the therapeutic benefits of THC without the psychoactive and potentially agitating properties of the cannabinoid.
- Acapulco Gold: With an underlying scent of earthy toffee, Acapulco Gold is a sativa-dominant strain that’s great for relaxing, whets the appetite, gives a boost of energy and provides euphoric feelings for daytime use. Because it has a high THC content, be sure to start off with a small amount and increase dosage gradually.
- White Russian: Another sativa-leaning strain, White Russian helps eliminate stress, anxiety and depression associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These feelings are especially common in early Alzheimer’s stages and can be lessened by an energizing strain like White Russian.
- Blissful Wizard: This hybrid strain isn’t something to play around with and due to the high THC content (as high as 30% or more), consumers should proceed with caution. It’s potent and effective, working to reduce pain and inflammation while boosting appetite and feelings of euphoria. Word is that this marijuana strain is strong enough to potentially slow major symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, especially those related to mood disorders and the loss of motor functions.
If you know someone with Alzheimer’s disease, cannabis as an alternative treatment is worth talking about. For the most part, it’s a safe treatment, and there are many ways to consume this therapeutic plant. If the patient doesn’t want to or can’t smoke, they can consume marijuana through edibles made at home with flower or oils. Vaping is also an option as is cannabis oil taken sublingually.
The bottom line is, you’ve got a number of options. If you still have questions about cannabis for Alzheimer’s disease, schedule a video consultation with one of our health practitioners. They can give you helpful advice about how to medicate with marijuana.
Photo credit: Kevin Grieve