Medical Marijuana For Alzheimer’s Disease

A neurological disorder characterized by severe and progressive loss of memory function and learned behaviors. Associated symptoms often include loss of appetite, depression and severe agitation.

It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans are afflicted with Alzheimer’s and there are only a few FDA-approved pharmaceuticals that help people deal with the symptoms of the disease, but there are none available to block the progression of Alzheimer’s.

One in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the nation, costing America about $203 billion in 2013.

Statistics indicate that Alzheimer’s is one of the top ten leading causes of death among the elderly in the United States. The characteristic signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, a neural degenerative disease are diminishing intellectual facility and a continuous decline in memory. The underlying cause of this degenerative condition that triggers is the formation of sticky amyloid plaques or protein deposits that lead to speech problems, spatial disorientation, severe loss of memory, mood swings, irritability, and severe neuronal damage. During advanced stages of the disease, people also experience a loss of cognition and memory inhibition.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive and incurable condition that systematically destroys brain cells in people above the age of 65, but cases of Alzheimer’s have been reported in people even in their mid 20s and 30s. However, these cases seem to be genetic in nature when compared with the protein based degeneration seen in older people.

Research conducted at Scripps Research in San Diego demonstrates that marijuana is a neuronal growth promoter and is a better bet when compared with a number of prescription drugs that are currently administered by medical practitioners and doctors that stifle the growth of these nerve cells. – Scripps Research

The Past

There are no known pharmaceutical treatments to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, nor any known cure. Common pharmaceutical treatment of symptoms include Donepezil and Tacrine.

Both pharmaceutical options can have severe allergic reactions:

Donepezil – Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); bloody or black, tarry stools; chest pain; dark urine; decreased, difficult, or painful urination; fainting; fever; flu-like symptoms (eg, headache, muscle aches, tiredness); mood or mental problems (eg, depression); muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness; new or worsening breathing problems (eg, shortness of breath); seizures; severe dizziness or headache; severe or persistent heartburn or stomach pain; slow or irregular heartbeat; swelling of the hands, ankles, or feet; tremor; unusual bruising; unusual tiredness or weakness; vomit that looks like blood or coffee grounds.

Tacrine – Has been discontinued and is no longer available for use.

The Plant

Both CBD and THC have been found to be effective in the treatment of both the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and the symptoms of appetite loss and agitation. The Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC component of medical marijuana or medical cannabis significantly reduces the progression of this dreaded and highly feared disease.

Difference between CBD and THC in Medical Marijuana

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. It acts much like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally by the body, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. THC attaches to these receptors and activates them and affects a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception, according to NIDA.

THC is one of many compounds found in the resin secreted by glands of the marijuana plant. More of these glands are found around the reproductive organs of the plant than on any other area of the plant. Other compounds unique to marijuana, called cannabinoids, are present in this resin. One cannabinoid, CBD is nonpsychoactive, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and actually blocks the high associated with THC.

Cannabidiol or CBD, is the cannabis compound that has significant medical benefits, but does not make people feel “stoned” and can actually counteract the psychoactivity of THC.   CBD does not cause a high, unlike THC. The reason why CBD is non-psychoactive is due to its lack of affinity for CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors are found in high concentrations in the brain, and are the pathways responsible for the psychoactive effects of THC.

CBD and THC levels tend to vary between different strains and varieties of cannabis.  By using selective breeding techniques, we have managed to create varieties with high levels of CBD and THC.

Patients have reported that they felt immensely relieved when they were given optimal doses of Medical Marijuana. It proved to be helpful in dealing with a number of troublesome signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as disturbed motor skills, loss of memory, diminished intellect and social skills, and dementia. Scientists believe that medical marijuana based drug treatment is a lot more effective when compared with the current treatment systems in place and while more research is required in this area, it is definitely one of the first drug that might have what it takes to fight this incurable and debilitating disease.

Medical marijuana and some of the plant’s chemicals have been used to help Alzheimer’s patients gain weight, and research found that it lessens some of the agitated behavior that patients can exhibit. In one cell study, researchers found it slowed the progress of protein deposits in the brain. Scientists think these proteins may be part of what causes Alzheimer’s, although no one knows what causes the disease. – CNN

The THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol active ingredient in marijuana works by decreasing the production of acetylcholinesterase, a neural enzyme that is known to trigger the formation of these harmful protein deposits in the brain. The enzyme also reduces the levels of acetylcholine, an important and essential neurotransmitter.

The Process

The majority trials have been limited to administration in non-human test subjects and oral administration of synthetic cannabinoids.  Patients can medicate in pill or caplet form, a liquid or medical edibles (medibles), all common ways to orally self-medicate with cannabis.

The Patient

Current drug laws restrict the cannabis and Alzheimer’s disease research to mostly synthetic cannabinoids and non-human test subjects. Several pharmaceutical drugs have been developed which either contain or have similar chemicals as those found in the cannabis plant. The synthetic cannabinoids are usually administered through a mouth spray or in pill form.

In a 2006 study published in Pharmacology, Researchers in Berlin, Germany administered the synthetic cannabinoid dronabinol to patients suffering from nighttime agitation related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 2.5 mg of the substance was administered daily for two weeks. The study concluded that dronabinol was able to reduce nocturnal motor activity and agitation in the patients, stating that dronabinol may be a safe and new treatment option.

Over 4.5 million Americans are estimated to be afflicted with the disease. No approved treatments or medications are available to stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease , and few pharmaceuticals have been FDA-approved to treat symptoms of the disease.
Over 4.5 million Americans are estimated to be afflicted with the disease. No approved treatments or medications are available to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, and few pharmaceuticals have been FDA-approved to treat symptoms of the disease.

Researchers at Trinity College in Ireland published results in the 2007 British Journal of Pharmacology article, Alzheimer’s disease: taking the edge off with cannabinoids? Here they found evidence of cannabinoid treatment modifying the progression of AD, as well as providing relief from the agitation and weight loss often associated with later stages of the disease.

As the report stated, “Cannabinoids offer a multi-faceted approach for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease by providing neuroprotection and reducing neuroinflammation, whilst simultaneously supporting the brain’s intrinsic repair mechanisms by augmenting neurtrophin expression and enhancing neurogenesis.”

The report further summarized, “Manipulation of the cannabinoid pathway offers a pharmacological approach for the treatment of AD that may be efficacious than current treatment regimens.”

A 2008 study from Hebrew University of Jerusalem with Professor Raphael Mechoulam–who was the first scientist to isolate THC and discovered the first endo-cannabinoid–has indicated that CBD treatment in mice can significantly slow the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also expressed hope that human trials would begin in the near future.

Researchers at the University of South Florida and Thomas Jefferson University wanted to investigate the “potential therapeutic qualities of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with respect to slowing or halting the hallmark characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease.”

So they treated Alzheimer’s research cells (N2a-variant amyloid-β protein precursor (AβPP) cells) with THC and examined them for amyloid-β at the 6, 24, and 48-hour time markers. Amyloid-β is a type of protein that is linked to Alzheimer’s symptoms. The researchers found THC “to be effective at lowering Aβ levels … in a dose-dependent manner.”

The main active ingredient in pot “directly interacts” with amyloid-β, “thereby inhibiting aggression”. THC was also effective at lowering other key Alzheimer’s Disease markers. Furthermore “no toxicity” was observed from the THC. The researchers also found THC “enhances” the function of the cell’s energy factories — the mitochondria.

“THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” stated study lead author Chuanhai Cao, PhD and a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the USF College of Pharmacy.

“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future.”

Other research in the same journal that month indicates THC boosts the body’s natural anti-Alzheimer’s fighting mechanism — the endocannabinoid system.

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