Alzheimer’s affects over 20 million people in America. This neurodegenerative disease goes beyond memory loss and reduced cognitive function. It affects families who may miss their beloved grandparent. Their only recourse is to sit idly by and hope for the best. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but there are drugs on the market that can help with the cognitive and behavioral symptoms associated with this disease.
As the research continues to come in, cannabis has been shown to be an alternative form of treatment for Alzheimer’s. Research has shown that cannabis can help with the symptoms and even promote brain cell growth. Essentially, cannabis can help reduce damage to the brain and go into “fix it” mode to reverse the adverse effects of Alzheimer’s.
One of the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s is the buildup of amyloid plaques in neural tissue. THC, a psychoactive component of cannabis, inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) while preventing neural plaque buildup which causes damage to the brain. During a 2008 study published in Molecular Pharmaceutics, the current approved drugs for Alzheimer’s, donepezil and tacrine, reduced neural plaque buildup by only 22% and 7%, respectively, double the concentration used in the study. THC reduced the neural plaque buildup far more effectively than other medication, in some cases.
Research into our body’s endocannabinoid system shows that it plays an important role in our body’s anti-inflammatory response. In people with Alzheimer’s, brain inflammation is known to occur around the neural plaque buildup, mentioned above. In a 2006 report by Neuroscience, activation of the CB1 receptor site induced an anti-inflammatory response. It works by preventing microglial cell activation responsible for neuroinflammation. Keep in mind, these tests have only been performed on animal subjects, but the results are promising.
Cannabis also contains a non-psychoactive compound known as cannabidiol (CBD). A 2004 study noted that CBD has a “neuroprotective, anti-oxidative, and anti-apoptotic” effect, reducing the neurotoxicity of neural plaque buildup. A 2009 study reported that combining THC and CBD as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases could provide even more benefits for Alzheimer’s patients.
A 2011 study found that CBD could “stimulate hippocampal neurogenesis.” The hippocampus is the area of the brain associated with emotion and memory. Essentially, CBD can treat many areas of Alzheimer’s. It can provide protection against toxicity, reduce inflammation, and aid in the brain’s repair mechanism.
Alzheimer’s can not only inhibit memory and speed up the aging process, but it can also come with other restricting symptoms. Some Alzheimer’s patients suffer with anorexia because they don’t eat enough. Cannabis is known to stimulate appetites, an experience colloquially known as the “munchies.” Cannabis can also improve motor function and reduce stress and agitation leading to a drastically improved quality of life.
Available research suggests that cannabis can provide enormous therapeutic benefits to people suffering with Alzheimer’s. Until government removes cannabis from its status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, research can’t study this potentially game-changing medicine for neurodegenerative diseases. Until then, cannabis can provide relief for those that may think all hope is lost.