5 Benefits of Medical Cannabis for Dementia
There is abundant evidence that the endocannabinoid system has an integral role to play in the maintenance of neural health, and that administration of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD can provide a range of preventative and curative benefits to individuals at risk of, or already suffering from debilitating diseases like Dementia.
May 12, 2017
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that typically presents in adults over the age of 65. The disease causes symptoms such as dementia.
While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:
- Communication and language
- Ability to focus and pay attention
- Reasoning and judgment
- Visual perception
People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals and remembering appointments.
Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse.
Five benefits of medical cannabis for dementia
- Preventative: Cannabis contains various compounds known as cannabinoids, which are structurally similar and have varying effects on brain function and metabolism. Of these, arguably the most important are THC and CBD, which have a range of physiological effects relevant to dementia—they can reduce inflammation, act as antioxidants and neuroprotectants, and even stimulate the growth of new neural tissue
- Decreases beta amyloid production: Excess amyloid beta accumulates in the brain and aggregates to form amyloid plaques, which are toxic to neural tissue. A study published in 2014, investigated the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and the process of plaque production. They demonstrated that amyloid precursor protein cells incubated with THC at very low doses produced amyloid beta at a slower than normal rate; THC also directly interacted with beta amyloid peptide and inhibited its aggregation into plaques.
- Cannabis is anti-inflammatory: Inflammation of neural tissue is increasingly thought to play a major role in the development of dementia. It is thought that acute inflammation that initially occurs as a defense mechanism may lead to an uncontrolled chain reaction resulting in chronic inflammation and neuronal deterioration. CBD is non psychoactive, have anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, neuro protective and pain killing properties, making it an ideal option to treat dementia.
- Cannabis is antioxidant/neuroprotectant: Oxidative stress and the release of reactive oxygen species is a key component of diseases such as Dementia, and is inherently associated with immune inflammation—when inflammation occurs, it induces oxidative stress, reduces the antioxidant capacity of cells, and causes the production of free radicals such as reactive oxygen species, which in turn react with fatty acids and proteins in the cell membranes. In 2004, a study demonstrated that exposing cells to amyloid beta caused a significant decline in cell survival, but that treating the cells with cannabidiol prior to amyloid beta exposure caused a notable increase in cell survival. Medical cannabis seems to destroy the poisonous protein amyloid beta – which has been linked to memory loss.
- Stimulates neurogenesis: Cannabidiol is also thought to promote the growth of new neural tissue (a process known as neurogenesis). In Dementia, the rapid destruction of neural tissue causes devastating neurological effects, and the normal processes of neurogenesis are interrupted by the presence of amyloid beta. Developing therapies that can stimulate neurogenesis may therefore slow the progression of the disease or even reverse its symptoms to some extent.
We still have much to learn of the complex processes that cause Dementia and related neurodegenerative conditions. However, there is abundant evidence that the endocannabinoid system has an integral role to play in the maintenance of neural health, and that administration of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD can provide a range of preventative and curative benefits to individuals at risk of, or already suffering from debilitating diseases like Dementia.