Different opinions among the researchers
Cannabis is a constant controversy for the scientists. There are well-respected doctors who advocate for its use and others who are worried about its addictive ability. While researchers keep on exploring the possibilities of cannabis to treat chronic and terminal illnesses, some studies are concentrating their job on the effects of medical cannabis on Alzheimer’s treatment and symptoms.
A study conducted by the University of South Florida and published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, conducted that small doses of THC are good to reduce the formation of the protein beta amyloid which accumulates in the Alzheimer’s brain. One of the authors said: “While we are still far from a consensus, this study indicates that THC and THC-related compounds may be of therapeutic value in Alzheimer’s disease. “
There is a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that found that very little doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the most important cannabinoids found in cannabis, can slow down the production of beta-amyloid proteins, considered a characteristic and contributor to the progression of Alzheimer’s.
The study, which was published in 2014, is one of the several made that believe in efficiency of THC in avoiding the growth of toxic amyloid plaques.
However, the coauthor of the study, Neel Nabar, prevents against rapid conclusions from the study. He said: “It’s important to keep in mind that just because a drug may be effective doesn’t mean it can be safely used by anyone. However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Another important study from the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California, has also discovered that THC and other cannabinoids of cannabis could reduce the quantity of beta amyloid in the brain. Beta amyloid is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s and is considered the main cause of the neurodegenerative disorder.
Even though these discoveries are preliminary, researchers are very optimistic about them. David Schubert, who is a professor at the Salk Institute and senior author on the study said: “Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”
In the research from La Jolla, investigators discovered that by exposing beta amyloid proteins to THC, the amount of beta amyloid were reduced and THC stopped the inflammatory response from the nerve cells produced by beta amyloid and allowed the cells to survive. Antonio Currais, who is a well known postdoctor investigator and first author on the paper said:
“Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, not the nerve cells themselves. When we were able to identify the molecular basis of the inflammatory response to amyloid beta, it became clear that THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in protecting the cells from dying.”
Investigators caution that their discoveries were done in a laboratory model and, therefore, they think that further research has to be done in a clinical trial before obtaining conclusive evidences.
Medical cannabis for dementia
While some investigators have seen clear success in the use of medical cannabis to fight the formation of beta amyloid plaques, some studies show differing results. A research team from Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, Netherlands, has studied the effects of medical cannabis on symptoms of dementia, which include aggression, anxiety, insomnia, depression, hallucinations and more. The research team did not see a statistically important difference when using medical cannabis to treat the symptoms related to the disease.
The investigators divided their group of 50 participants into two groups. One group was given 1.5 mg of medical cannabis pills and the other was given a placebo pill. The participants took their pills three times a day during three weeks. After this period, they compared the behavioral symptoms of the two groups. Investigators said there was no difference between the two.
However, other recent research published in the The Journal of Alzheimer Disease has concluded that cannabis extracts that have THC definitely relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Investigators from the Abarbanel Mental Health Center and the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University and the Department of Psychology at Bar-Ilan University, did their own study, which was one of the first clinical studies, to see the effects of medical marijuana on Alzheimer’s.
The research watched the effects of medical cannabis on 11 people who suffered from Alzheimer’s during 4 weeks. Ten participants finished the experiment. Although the study was done with a small group of participants, the investigators concluded that: “Adding medical cannabis oil to Alzheimer’s patients’ pharmacotherapy is a safe and promising treatment option.”
Many studies have discovered that cannabis or cannabinoids can help to manage some of the behavioral symptoms of dementia, such as agitation or aggression. But more research is necessary to understand if this could really be an efficient approach.