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Cannabinoids Treat and May Prevent Dementia

Christine Kielhorn PHD
cannabis, dementia, medical cannabis, CBD, THC, cannabinoids, endocannabinoid system, alzheimer's, mental health, aging, brain function

Cannabis treats the symptoms of dementia (anxiety, insomnia, depression, psychosis) AND it breaks brain plaques to treat the cause of dementia.

Dementia is a condition that afflicts the elderly with symptoms like memory loss, language impairments, and trouble with social skills and attention. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) contributes to over 50% of the disease’s cases. The remaining evenly distribute between vascular dementia and Lewy bodies, or protein aggregates, in the brain (including Parkinson’s Disease).

Dementia patient man sitting on side of bed staring at shoes in his hands

The Causes of Dementia

Doctors still debate the root causes of dementia. Still, they’ve identified multiple main mechanisms. Β-amyloidosis is the build-up of β-amyloid proteins in the brain. It forms hard, dense, plaques that are difficult to break up. A protein aggregate also characterizes Tauopathy. But unusually, it is of neurofilaments and tau proteins. Brain cell death may also occur, leading to neurotransmitter deficits. For example, cells responsible for dopamine signaling in the midbrain can disappear. Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) like delusions, agitation, anxiety, and sleep disorders are also common. These make it difficult for those with dementia to remain in the home environment.

Cannabis is frequently used to treat BPSD and improve the quality of life of those suffering from dementia. In addition, cannabis and cannabinoids have been investigated as potential treatments for the mechanisms behind dementia.

Using Cannabis to Treat Dementia

The primary use of cannabis and cannabinoids in the treatment of the disease has been for alleviating BPSD. Cannabis is a more desirable alternative to antipsychotic medications. These have limited efficacy and a litany of side effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a known anti-anxiety agent, and has been used in a small study of Parkinson’s patients to reduce the severity of psychosis symptoms. In several small studies on patients with severe dementia, the use of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was able to ease night-time agitation and anxiety. Other synthetic cannabinoids show reduced aggression and agitation in dementia patients, as well.

However, the role of cannabinoids could also extend into the mechanisms behind dementia. The ECS is known to be involved in other neuroprotective activities such as reducing inflammation and excitotoxicity (or overstimulation of neurons resulting in cell death). Cannabinoids could help reduce the inflammation that accompanies the protein deposits and is a leading cause of brain cell death. One animal study used Sativex, a drug combining THC and CBD, to reduce inflammation and anxiety. Interestingly, this study also found that Sativex helped to reduce the deposition of tau protein in the brains of the mice.

Other Studies

Other studies have also found that activating the cannabinoid receptor CB2 seemed to result in protein removal. Because immune cells highly express CB2 receptors, like macrophages, the hypothesis is that to activate them improves the ability of these cells to remove and digest the protein deposits in the brain. Cannabinoid receptor CB1 activation can also help prevent excitotoxicity by stopping the release of glutamate. This neurotransmitter releases in large amounts by brains suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. It is a signal of cell death.

Woman comforting man with dementia

Dementia significantly reduces the quality of life of affected patients. Cannabis can help to alleviate the behavioral symptoms, like anxiety and agitation. In addition, there is mounting evidence from animal studies on the potential therapeutic effects of cannabinoids on the mechanisms contributing to the disease. Cannabinoids have a neuroprotective effect on the brain. This effect potentially slows the degeneration the diseases behind dementia cause.

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Christine Kielhorn
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