Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that results in the degeneration of brain cells. It affects thinking, reasoning, memory, and problem solving skills of the person. Apart from cognitive function, it also influences the mood, personality, behaviour and social skills. In the advanced stages the patients are highly dependent on their caregiver to carry out daily routine activities. In some cases the patient becomes highly aggressive and abusive, which becomes very hard for the caregiver to control and manage.
Alzheimer’s is one of the most common causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s accounts for about two-third cases of dementia. As per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, “an estimated 5 million Americans aged 65 years or older had Alzheimer’s disease. This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060”. Also a very high cost of treatment is projected to be incurred over the coming years.
Due to the unavailability of a permanent cure or therapy, dementia and its associated diseases causes a huge burden on affected individuals, their caregivers, the government and the healthcare system. Certain medications are available in the market but their overall significance is to just ease the symptoms and the progression of the disease. Today, research is more focussed on developing therapies that will target the genetic, molecular, and cellular mechanisms of the disease. In order to find an effective treatment option, parallel research is going on to assess the benefit of marijuana for the treatment of dementia and its related symptoms.
Medical marijuana or medical cannabis are cannabinoids which are prescribed by physicians to their patients. Medical marijuana has been in use since ancient times for the treatment of certain diseases and conditions. Use of cannabis for treatment is controversial, some physicians are in its favour while some are against its use due to its addictive nature and the long term impact on psychosis of consumers. Medical marijuana over the years has shown its significance, today, it is in use for the treatment of diseases and conditions such as epilepsy, lennox-gastaut syndrome, dravet syndrome, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, nausea, nerve pain and many others.
Over 100 different types of chemicals can be extracted from marijuana plants commonly called cannabinoids. Cannabinol, d-9-THC, CBD, d-8-THC are the four major compounds extracted from cannabis plants and also, the most research has been conducted around these compounds only. Marijuana extracted compounds have different properties and effects on the human body and brain.
Due to Alzheimer’s disease an abnormal buildup of clumps of a protein, called amyloid, takes place in the human brain. The amyloid protein formation affects the neurotransmitters (a chemical messengers) between the brain cells. The lab results have shown that cannabis compound THC has facilitated the removal of amyloid from lab grown nerve cells.
The human endocannabinoid system consists of a network of cell receptors which interacts with the cannabinoids. Apart from the tissues and organs, these Cannabinoid receptors are densely present in the brain. The cannabinoids upon interaction with receptors, release certain neurochemicals in the human brain, and alter the process of how brain cells will interact with each other, which successively affects the various body processes such as memory, mood, thinking, appetite, pain, relaxation and so on.
The limited studies conducted so far have not been able to find hard evidence that marijuana or its compound can prevent or stop the Alzheimer’ disease. But the studies have suggested that it can be productive for treating neuropsychiatric symptoms (or behavioral symptoms) linked to dementia such as agitation, mood, aggression, nocturnal behavior disorders, irritability, disinhibition, aberrant vocalization and so on.
A more comprehensive study is required in this field to assess the long term effects of cannabis on brain keeping the side-effects and person’s safety in mind. Apart from reducing the quality of life, dementia and its associated diseases can cause significant risks of injury to both caregiver and patient, due to various behavioral symptoms of the latter one. An effective treatment of dementia can significantly reduce the burden on caregivers and the healthcare system.