The Effect of Cannabis on Dementia


The therapeutic effects of medicinal marijuana under the microscope

By Mike Takieddine

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, The worldwide number of persons with dementia is currently estimated at 45 million, this prevalence to increase to 76 million by 2030 and to 135 million by 2050. No wonder thus that the midnight oil is constantly burning in related research facilities across several continents.

People’s views with regard to the therapeutic effects of medicinal marijuana have undergone a radical shift from off-handed skepticism to a more hopeful outlook. As for academia, the last 20 years have seen thousands of research articles written on cannabis, with thousands more on the broader topic of the critical compounds found in the marijuana plant known as cannabinoids. Those are the best known of the naturally occurring compounds as they include THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in the plant.

Cannabis under the Microscope

The formal classification of marijuana occurred in the US in 1972 when cannabis was relegated to schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act since it was deemed to be no more than a street drug with no medical use. Since then, more than half the states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, and as researchers were hard at work seeking treatments for dementia, cannabis was never far from their sights. It has only been since the 1980s however that the link was made between the physiological and behavioral effects of cannabinoids and receptors that inhibit neurotransmitter release in the brain. Rapid headway has been the norm since then, with labs across several continents working feverishly to further detect the pros and cons of medical cannabis

Cannabis Today: a Symptom-Mitigating Aid

Almost uncontested today, particularly overseas, has become the use of marijuana-based treatments for aging patients suffering from a variety of ailments. Israel has a program that supplies medicinal cannabis directly to many nursing homes, and in the Netherlands, a good proportion of all prescriptions written for marijuana are for persons over 60. The use of medicinal marijuana with dementia patients has also increased dramatically in the US and Canada.

Dementia patients feel relieved when given medicinal marijuana in doctor-prescribed dosages. The marijuana helps with various parts of the aging body and mind, particularly with neuropathic pain and nausea, agitation, seizures, stress-relief, motor skills, social skills and loss of appetite. Many scientists believe that with further study, cannabis-based treatments will prove more effective than other treatment regimens currently in use for patients with dementia.

Can Marijuana Slow Down the Degeneration?

The active ingredients of marijuana, cannabinoids (e.g. THC), were found to reduce inflammation and cancerous growth in half of all lung cancer patients that were part of a recent clinical study. As inflammation is the main factor at the root of several degenerative ailments, the effect of marijuana on inflammation is in itself viewed as a significant breakthrough in dementia-related research. It is also thought that cannabinoids can drive the development of new neural pathways in the brain and in cells damaged by trauma, disease or age.

Further, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut in 2006 found that the chemical THC that produced a high in marijuana could be viewed as more effective in suppressing the irregular clumping together of plaques, a characteristic of dementia, than any other pharmaceutical currently prescribed. Marijuana Helps the Body Maintain Homeostasis

The human body is an awe-inspiring self-healing machine that puts up a staunch resistance to any obstacles that would derail it from maintaining balance. And homeostasis in our body is that which enables the parts of the body to get regulated so that internal conditions remain stable. At the heart of a homeostatic system –in this case our body- is this ongoing multiplicity of functions that are monitored by hundreds of symbiotic control mechanisms. For example, the heart and the brain collaborate to maintain optimal levels of blood pressure. When blood pressure is too high, the heart slows down, and when it is low, the brain tells the heart to speed up a little.

Cannabinoids apply their therapeutic interventions by mimicking chemicals produced within our systems, called endocannabinoids, which function to maintain health and balance. They act between cells and controlling mechanisms to promptly resolve irregularities before they turn to disease.

For Therapy, One Puff a Day According to Ohio State Professor of Neuroscience Gary Wenk, a specialist in the field of brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s, experiments on animals have revealed to him that marijuana is the most effective anti-inflammatory drug in existence. Boomers should be happy to learn that according to Wenk, people who smoked marijuana in their youth and who are now entering their Medicare years are not succumbing to dementia at the anticipated rate. Wenk believes that all it takes for an optimal benefit from marijuana is one puff a day. He sees coming in the not too distant future a cannabinoid medication that can be administered through a patch, thus avoiding the harmful effects of smoking.

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