Dementia and Marijuana: can it help?

Over 50 million people worldwide suffer from some form of dementia. Research has shown that there may be a link between dementia and marijuana.

What is dementia disease?

The definition of dementia is a chronic disorder of the cognitive functions. This disorder is typically caused by brain disease or injury. This dementia definition is often used by researchers and physicians. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe several symptoms.

what is dementiaThe signs of dementia include memory loss, inability to problem-solve, and issues with language and thinking skills. These symptoms are typically very minor in the beginning stages of the disease. As the disorder progresses, so too will the symptoms. Eventually, they can greatly deteriorate a person’s quality of life.

When dementia first starts appearing, a person may appear forgetful. They may struggle to remember what they did the day before. As the disease gets worse, they may be unable to remember the proper sequence to getting themselves dressed. A person suffering from dementia may find it difficult to carry on a conversation. They may have problems with vision perception. They may lose track of time, or even their location.

For most forms of dementia, there is currently no cure. There has been some evidence that medical marijuana for dementia may help the condition. However, more studies need to be done before results can be considered conclusive. Most studies have focused on Alzheimer’s. However, there is a difference between this form of dementia and others.

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: What’s the difference?

Dementia can take many forms. In fact, dementia itself is not considered to be a disease but a syndrome, that presents a number of symptoms. Dementia is considered to be an umbrella term. The many diseases that fall under the term are very specific. These diseases are considered to be the cause of dementia.

types of dementia

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. Others include:

  • Vascular dementia
  • Mixed dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Pick’s disease
  • Corticobasal degeneration
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy.

For most of these causes of dementia, there is not yet a cure. Patients are typically given prescription drugs that can help control the symptoms of the disease. All causes of dementia affect the brain. So too, does marijuana. It is for this reason the effects of cannabis for dementia are currently being studied.

What is marijuana, and how does it affect the brain?

Marijuana is a plant that is often used recreationally. Marijuana is also taken medicinally to help with different ailments. Marijuana can be taken in many different forms. The dried flowers can be smoked or vaped. Concentrates can be taken in a number of different ways such as in oil, or by dabbing. Marijuana can also be cooked and used in a number of dishes.

One of the main uses of marijuana is when it is used medicinally. It is often used as a pain-reliever. It is used to treat symptoms associated with chemotherapy. Due to the effects that marijuana has on the brain, the link between dementia and marijuana is now largely being studied.

marijuana brainMarijuana targets the brain. More specifically, it targets the endocannabinoid system. This system is comprised of CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is responsible for memory functions, appetite regulation, and responding to stress. The body naturally produces the endocannabinoids. Marijuana can boost those natural levels.

This is because THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana binds to the CB1 receptors. This can help stimulate activity in this area of the brain. CBD, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana, binds to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. This can lessen the activity in this area of the brain.

These receptors play a major role in the development of dementia. The brain contains the hippocampus, which is the center of memory and emotion. The hippocampus also contains the CB1 receptor, which can be vulnerable to the main cause of Alzheimer’s. When the hippocampus is damaged, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can start to be seen.

Conversely, the microglia in the brain contains the CB2 receptors. Some studies have shown that patients suffering from Alzheimer’s have more CB2 receptors in their brain. When medical marijuana for dementia is used, these receptors may become less active. That may lessen the symptoms of the disease. These receptors are being studied to determine the effects of marijuana for dementia patients.

Research on Marijuana for Dementia Patients.

The lack of marijuana legalization around the world has made researching the effects of marijuana and dementia difficult. California and Canada have been able to study the effects. This is due to the fact that cannabis is legal in these areas.

At California’s Salk Institute, professor David Schubert spearheaded a study in 2017. The study showed how THC and CBD could remove dangerous proteins from the brain. The protein is known as amyloid beta, and when it forms, it can destroy nerve cells within the brain.

Professor Schubert and his team concluded that amyloid beta will form prior to Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, the researchers studied mice that already had the presence of amyloid beta. When the mice were given extracts of marijuana, it was shown to reduce and remove the protein.

medical marijuana for dementia

A prior study done in 2015 showed similar results. In this study, mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms were given cannabis. Researchers looked for a link between dementia and marijuana. The study showed the amyloid beta protein was lessening. Participants also displayed improved learning skills.

Traditionally studies primarily involved mice as their subjects. One of the first studies done on humans was conducted by the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Canada. There, researchers studied the effects of dementia and marijuana on humans.

In this study, adults displaying moderate to severe Alzheimer’s symptoms were studied over a period of 14 weeks. They were divided into two groups. One was given a synthetic cannabinoid known as nabilone. The other group was given a placebo. The study found that the group given the nabilone experienced significantly reduced agitation. The group given the placebo saw very little change in their agitation levels.

It is these behavioral symptoms that marijuana can mostly help with dementia. It has not been proven that marijuana can prevent dementia. It can however, help reduce many of the symptoms associated with the disorder.

Conclusion

More research needs to be done to study the link between dementia and marijuana. It is clear though that there is a link. As legalization continues to occur around the world, more studies can be conducted. In the end, more patients will be helped.

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