CBD is getting all of the attention these days, and with that comes intense scrutiny. Does it really work? Are its claims bogus? Will the FDA ever fully accept it?
But one area of scientific research that deserves much more attention is that of cannabis and its effect on Alzheimer’s and dementia. There have already been a handful of studies conducted that show some positive results — not in preventing the disease or curing it, but in slowing its progression and improving quality of life.
In one mice based study, THC, CBD and other cannabinoids were combined and administered to the subjects while they were experiencing the early symptomatic stage of Alzheimer’s. THC and CBD did the most to “prevent learning impairment,” and there was change in the plaques responsible for building up and causing memory blockages.
The anti-inflammatory role of cannabis also played a large role in the experiment, and it was found that the most relief was obtained with a combination of THC and CBD rather than THC or CBD by themselves.
There is an entourage effect in cannabis where the different cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes and other compounds play off and increase each other’s therapeutic effects and values. A glaring example of this was when THC was isolated to concoct the pharmaceutical Marinol to combat chemotherapy sickness. It soon became apparent to both doctors and patients that THC alone did not work as expected and was not nearly as effective as hoped.
It makes sense, then, that when combating illness as severe as Alzheimer’s that all the medicinal properties of the plant are needed for the best results. As pointed out on the Alzheimer’s Association’s UK website, “…As yet no studies or trials have looked into the effects of cannabis or its components on the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease in people. Whilst the studies in the laboratory show some promise, we need to understand the wider effects that these components have before we can know whether they have any effect – positive or negative – on the development of Alzheimer’s in people.”
Photo by Flickr user Joris Louwes
As Joel Loiacono of the Alzheimer’s Association told us:
From our perspective, there are chemicals in marijuana that can be helpful, but we’re not coming out in favor of marijuana use. They’re just beginning to do studies about cannabinoids. We’re not closing off any avenues, the jury is just still out as we need to do more research in the area.
When asked if the Alzheimer’s Association would support a cannabis-based therapy if enough conclusive studies were conducted, he replied, “We’re going to come out in favor of anything, or most anything, that is a disease altering medication. We’re just not there yet with cannabinoids or marijuana. We’re not closing out this avenue of research. We want to keep all avenues of research open to include this one.”
More studies are clearly necessary and unfortunately cannot, as of yet, take place in the United States. As cannabis remains a Schedule I substance at the federal level, it can’t be taken seriously by the FDA. It just can’t.
In the meantime, however, as more states turn green and the world at large becomes more educated about cannabis and its many benefits, we must take into account even small proofs that cannabis can help ease symptoms of Alzheimer’s. At the very least it can soothe agitation in later stage patients and calm anxiety.
In another study published in Nature, it was found that stimulation of the endocannabinoid system in the brain prevented harmful inflammation and, “that this early form of proteotoxicity can be blocked by the activation of cannabinoid receptors.” These are promising results that shouldn’t be ignored and in fact should be springboards to further research, as affirmed by Loiacono.
However, recently, the Food & Drug Administration slapped cannabis company CuraLeaf with a warning letter for promoting their products as potential treatment for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and PTSD, among other claims. “Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims — such as claims that CBD products can treat serious diseases and conditions — can put patients and consumers at risk by leading them to put off important medical care,” said the FDA.
It seems that with cannabis there is always hope to be had, and that alone should be enough to unshackle the plant completely.