Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating illness. People with Alzheimer’s
suffer from progressive memory loss, cognition impairment, physical
deterioration and eventual death. Current treatment methods can slow
disease progression, but they do not stop or prevent it.
Recent studies have shown that medical marijuana may help with
Alzheimer’s symptoms, slow progression and provide some prevention.
Alzheimer’s and the Brain
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the United
States. The Alzheimer’s
estimates that in 2015, 5.3 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s. It
is the sixth leading cause of death in total, and is responsible for
in adults 65 and older in the United States.
In Alzheimer’s, protein plaques, called beta-amyloids, build up between
the nerve cells, particularly those responsible for memory and
cognition. The plaques disrupt cell communication leading to loss of
function. Additionally, tau proteins form tangled fibers inside the
brain cells, preventing nutrients from reaching the cells. Both
abnormalities eventually cause cell death.
Alzheimer’s may also affect the cannabinoid system in the body.
naturally occurring chemicals in the body, interact with cannabinoid
receptors in the brain and immune system and are responsible for
that Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis –
all neurodegenerative disorders similar to Alzheimer’s – reduce
cannabinoid system function. These reductions cause many of the symptoms
of these illnesses, including anxiety, sleeplessness, and appetite loss.
Cannabis and the Brain
About 150 years ago, medical marijuana was introduced in England to
treat a number of conditions, including senile dementia. In 1890, Sir J.
Russell Reynolds, physician to Queen Victoria, wrote in
he "found nothing comparable in utility to a moderate dose of Indian
hemp," or marijuana, for treating senile insomnia.
Due to its chemical composition and effects on the brain, cannabis
should be studied with regards to Alzheimer’s. Recent
have found that the cannabinoids in marijuana, particularly
delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), successfully
stimulate appetite, improve sleep and reduce anxiety in Alzheimer’s
Cannabis may also help slow disease progression. Iuvone et
al. found that CBD reduces
the inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s. Eubanks, et
found that THC inhibits the buildup of amyloid plaques, and does so
better than the Alzheimer’s drugs donepezil and tacrine. They also found
that cannabis interferes with neurotransmitter degradation and may halt
the formation of tau fiber tangles, which has potential preventative
Research is just beginning regarding the benefits of treating
Alzheimer’s patients with cannabis, but these early findings are
promising and provide direction for further study.