Can Marijuana Treat Dementia?

Marijuana has been boasted as a treatment for a variety of illnesses and conditions, from cancer, AIDS and epilepsy, to chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety. With medical marijuana legal in 31 states, its use in treating a wide range of illnesses is not exactly news to many. It’s been found to treat several degenerative disorders as well, including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS). What is very interesting, however, is that recent studies indicate that it may also be used to treat and prevent dementia. This includes being useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease as Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.

How Cannabis Can Benefit the Mind
For many years, marijuana was associated with forgetful, unfocused thinking. This was its representation in the media and, for many, what was directly associated with the plant. This outdated image has been proven to be inaccurate when boasting of the benefits of marijuana and dementia. There have been numerous studies showing that cannabis can greatly improve brain function, especially in the elderly struggling with degenerative disorders such as dementia. There seem to be various reasons for its many benefits on the brain, from its ability to balance the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as well as its ability to act as a very powerful anti-inflammatory.

Understanding Dementia
Dementia is not in and of itself a disease. It’s the term used for a group of debilitating disorders that affect a person’s memory or their ability to think and process everyday activities. In extreme cases, it may affect a person’s ability to remember loved ones, their whereabouts or how to perform even the simplest of daily tasks. It affects language, the ability to follow a conversation and participate in it. It even affects a person’s ability to judge time and their location as well as see 3D objects and measure their distances.

Common Types of Dementia
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s. It makes up approximately 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia is another common form that occurs in people who have had a stroke. Currently, over 12 percent of those over the age of 65 have dementia. Over half the people over 85 have it. These disorders, most commonly Alzheimer’s, accounts for over one third of senior deaths. These disorders can be devastating and, as it stands, there is no treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s. There are some drugs that can alleviate symptoms but nothing that can slow or stop its progression.

Marijuana and dementia have not traditionally gone hand in hand but, as more and more study is done on the subject, hope is making itself present. Dementia is caused by brain cell damage to specific areas of the brain. In the case of Alzheimer’s, it is specific proteins found in and around the brain that are thought to interfere with the cells ability to stay healthy and communicate with each other.

The Relationship Between Marijuana and Dementia
Marijuana and dementia have been found to be related through the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is a system of CB1 and CB2 receptors that are found all through the cells of the body, including organs and muscles. The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body, including digestion, mood, sleep and appetite as well as the many functions the body produces. Two main compounds found in marijuana, THC and CBD, are known to trigger and balance the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the body, which explains why the plant is considered to be beneficial for so many varying ailments. Alzheimer’s is no different.

A 2015 study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that “THC treatment restored hippocampal gene transcription patterns such that the expression profiles of THC-treated mice aged 12 months closely resembled those of THC-free animals aged 2 months.” The study found that “restoration of CB1 signaling in old individuals could be an effective strategy to treat age-related cognitive impairments.” Researchers discovered this by supplying the mice with a chronic low dose of THC. The compound regenerated the CB1 receptors, cognitive function, in the brains of elderly mice.

Using Medical Cannabis to Treat Alzheimer’s
The Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scale, is often used to determine the progression of dementia. A team of researchers from the Israel and Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University studied 11 Alzheimer’s patients over a four-week period and found that the correct application of THC was able to reduce the progress of the disease. They stated that “adding (medical cannabis oil) to (Alzheimer’s disease) patients’ pharmacotherapy is safe and a promising treatment option.” The study showed that many of the psychological and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s were also alleviated, including agitation, aggression, irritability, apathy, delusions, and disturbed sleep. The significant connection between marijuana and dementia, proved to be a powerful source of treatment in a very short time. This is only a fraction of the evidence currently connecting marijuana as a valuable treatment for dementia.

Using Marijuana for Prevention of Dementia
It would appear that marijuana and dementia are also connected before the disease even presents itself as a potential threat. Marijuana has also been found to be preventative when it comes to dementia. A study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health showed that dementia could also be prevented by replacing alcohol intake with marijuana instead.

“The findings indicate that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders are the most important risk factors for dementia, and especially important for those types of dementia which start before age 65, and which lead to premature deaths,” said study co-author Jürgen Rehm. “Alcohol-induced brain damage and dementia are preventable and known-effective preventive and policy measures can make a dent in premature dementia deaths.” Marijuana has been found to curve binge drinking and even alcoholism. If drinking habits were curbed using marijuana, people would find themselves very easily decreasing their chances of getting dementia.

The relationship between marijuana and dementia still needs more study in order to understand the impacts of various strains, as well as dosage, but there is a clear and positive connection between the plant and the disorder. It seems only a matter of time before the debilitating disease will be able to be treated effectively, helping to heal people’s minds and their connections to safety and loved ones once again.

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