Although the conventional treatments for Alzheimer’s disease can alleviate symptoms, standard drugs cannot delay or reverse the progression of the disease. There has been encouraging research in recent years showing that in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), Alzheimer’s may have just met its nemesis.
According to research, cannabinoids (such as CBD and its very famous cousin, delta-tetrahydrocannabinol or Δ9-THC) appear to be helpful in not only alleviating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease but also perhaps stopping it in its tracks.
Let’s unpack the how and why a bit more.
Cannabinoids as a Potential Therapeutic Option for Alzheimer’s Disease
For the uninitiated:
- The bodies of vertebrates all have a system that was discovered fairly recently: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
- The ECS makes its own cannabinoids (chemical compounds) and is also modulated by plant or phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC.
- The ECS comprises many receptors all over the body and in the major organs. CB1 and CB2 are the two most-researched receptors identified so far. (CB stands for cannabinoid.)
- This is significant for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease because CB1 receptors are widely distributed in different regions of the brain, including the cerebellum, cortex, hippocampus, and basal ganglia. The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory. These areas are often affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Phytocannabinoids are extracted from marijuana and hemp.
Like the body’s natural endocannabinoids, plant-sourced cannabinoids activate or modulate receptors that may help to reduce the onset of certain neurological diseases.
THC has also been shown to improve behavioral issues (deteriorating sleep patterns and appetite issues) in Alzheimer’s disease patients. This evidence also points to the role of the ECS in the mitigation of the neurodegenerative process, which can offer more effective options to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
But THC comes with some disagreeable side effects. It also almost exclusively interacts with the CB1 receptor, as mentioned. This direct interaction causes the marijuana “high” its use is known for.
But CBD lack this psychotropic property.
So the question remains: some studies have shown that Δ9-THC may be of benefit for Alzheimer’s disease patients, but what about CBD for Alzheimer’s?
There’s enough evidence to be encouraging.
The Possible Benefits of CBD for Alzheimer’s
Phytocannabinoids can elicit an anti-inflammatory action through various methods. Evidence suggests that CBD can suppress inflammation as well as the signals responsible for triggering the inflammation in the first place. Also, as an antioxidant, CBD helps to reduce the problems associated with oxidative stress.
This is true also for neuroinflammation.
In addition—as recently as 2017, French researchers concluded: “CBD suppresses, through activation of PPARγ, pro-inflammatory signaling and may be a potential new candidate for AD [Alzheimer’s disease] therapy.”
Equally exciting is the evidence that prolonged administration of cannabinoids continues to reduce inflammation.
Neuroprotection and Cell Regeneration
Several studies have demonstrated that cannabinoids can reduce neuroinflammation and promote neuroprotection.
Another notable benefit of cannabinoids like CBD is their ability to generate new neurons in the hippocampus region. Some evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s-diseased brains have a reduced ability to produce new brain cells, so this is good news.
Are Cannabinoids Capable of Relieving Behavioral Symptoms?
While past studies have shown that cannabis can provide palliative relief to Alzheimer’s patients, one Israeli study demonstrated that medical cannabis oil (THC) can be effective in relieving behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.
After four weeks of THC administration, significant decreases in apathy, agitation, aggression, delusion, irritation, and sleep distress were observed, as evidenced by severity scores. The results suggest that THC can be a promising add-on therapy for Alzheimer’s disease patients.
The results were in line with the conclusions of another experimental study, which reported that low-dose THC administration delayed or even halted the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Ongoing research will determine whether CBD for Alzheimer’s is as promising.
Is There a Specific CBD Dosage for Alzheimer’s?
The short answer is: no, not yet.
The research is only now getting started regarding the possible applications for cannabinoids for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. This means there are no formal dosing recommendations in place yet.
A much more clinical study is still needed on the effectiveness of all cannabinoids, including CBD for Alzheimer’s disease.
This means that patients are still left up to their own devices to determine a CBD dosage for Alzheimer’s, which is not necessarily bad news. Experimenting with the cannabinoid and determining a personal dosage is considered safe, and it’s now legally possible, too. Hemp-derived CBD is readily available online and in many states.
But what exactly is Alzheimer’s disease?
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder linked to progressive neuronal loss and cognitive decline. It typically affects elderly individuals between 65 and 80 years of age.
It is likely caused by a number of different factors, including genetics. Alzheimer’s patients usually suffer:
- cognitive impairment,
- short and long-term memory loss, and
- difficulties in speech.
It is also known to trigger:
- psychosis, and
- aggressive behavior.
Total care from family and caregivers may be needed in later stages.
Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology at a Glance
Presence of senile plaques in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques, like small fragments, are present across certain brain regions and play a vital role in memory loss, behavioral changes, and neuronal cell death associated with the illness.
In an Alzheimer’s brain, there is a slow breakdown of inter-neuronal communication and memory processes. As the disease progresses, patients find it more and more challenging to complete the things that were once wholly natural, such as speaking, recalling memories, and forming memories.
As these senile plaques accumulate and the brain’s immune system fails to clean them up adequately, a gradual increase in inflammation and oxidative stress takes place throughout the brain.
The role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in neurodegenerative disorders has been explored in recent years as a novel new approach for treatment, and the results are exciting. More study is needed to establish that using CBD, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases may not only be stopped but perhaps even prevented.
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