Over the last few years, Cannabidiol (CBD) has been popping up in conversations about mitigating pain and anxiety, especially for those dealing with chronic conditions. While the CBD market continues to expand, more and more states around the country are legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis.
When it comes to using CBD for Alzheimer’s, research into whether or not it can help is still emerging, but the results so far seem promising. While it may not be able to slow, stop, reverse, or prevent the disease, it appears it can be helpful in managing some of the behavioral symptoms like agitation and aggression that often accompany Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Similarly, not enough is currently known about the effect of THC on Alzheimer’s for medical authorities to take a position on whether or not it should be recommended as a treatment. However, as with CBD, research continues and may bring new information about THC and dementia.
In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of cannabis for Alzheimer’s and whether CBD or THC is a better treatment.
CBD is one of the 100 or so active compounds called cannabinoids that are found in the Cannabis sativa, or hemp, plant. This compound activates the endocannabinoid (ECS) system in our body. The ECS system is a channel of neurotransmitters that relay information in our central and peripheral nervous system.
The neurotransmitters located in our brain, spinal cord, organs, and immune system help control the traffic of signals to and from the brain. This, in turn, helps regulate various physiological processes. The body will always try to keep itself in an equilibrium, or a balanced state. CBD helps improve the communication in and efficiency of the nervous system, thereby improving equilibrium.
Like CBD, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is also a naturally occurring compound found in the Cannabis plant. While THC also works with the body’s ECS, it causes psychoactive effects that CBD does not. This is the “high” feeling often associated with the use of marijuana and THC. It does this by binding with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain to produce the high or sense of euphoria.
There is still a lot to learn about the long-term effects of cannabis on the brain and the ways it can or can’t help with Alzheimer’s. Of the clinical trials that have been conducted, some of the results indicate that CBD may be helpful in managing some of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Often, those dealing with the disease display agitation and aggression. Because CBD helps create a sense of calm in the body and mind, it can bring some relief to those symptoms.
The Alzheimer’s Society Research Program continues to fund research on how endocannabinoids can affect mood and anxiety in dementia patients. Additionally, the group is researching if a synthetic cannabinoid called nabilone can help with symptoms of agitation.
Can THC help with dementia? Like the research on CBD, the research on the effects of THC on Alzheimer’s disease is ongoing. It can be difficult to conduct enough research on human subjects, but scientists have been studying the effects of THC on mice.
Renowned neuroscientist Andreas Zimmer has been conducting research into the effects of THC on Alzhheimer’s using mice. The mice in the experiment are around 18 months old, which is the equivalent of a 70-year-old human. Senior mice around this age generally begin to show signs of cognitive decline, such as directional confusion and lack of socialization.
The study supposes that these characteristics are like the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Since beginning the research in 2005, Zimmer has been able to show results that THC seems to slow the age-related brain degeneration in mice. In fact, in some cases the researchers were unable to tell a difference between the older mice and much younger ones. With these encouraging results, research is ongoing into whether or not the same kind of success can be replicated in older humans.
Using CBD for Alzheimer’s is more of a way to treat or mitigate symptoms rather than doing anything to reverse the process of the disease. CBD Alzheimer’s treatments can help patients in two ways.
CBD works by activating certain receptors in the nervous system, such as serotonin. This is why it is helpful in relieving anxiety and creating a sense of calm. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients often have agitation and aggression associated with their disease. This is partly because it reduces the patient’s ability to communicate effectively or identify the cause of their discomfort. In turn, they become agitated and aggressive. While CBD can’t take away the challenges with expression, it can help calm the patient down and reduce aggressive behavior.
Because Alzheimer’s and dementia patients often become less mobile as the disease progresses, CBD for Alzheimer’s may be able to help reduce the aches and pains that come along with immobility, as well as age-related arthritis. CBD works to decrease inflammation levels throughout the entire body, making it helpful with chronic pain.
CBD does have a few mild side effects that can occur with use. The most common side effect of CBD is drowsiness. However, in most instances, this is a welcome effect if you are using CBD to help with sleep issues. Most of the time, you will feel only a calming sensation in the body and no major physical effects. More severe side effects can occur if you use too much CBD, including nausea or diarrhea. CBD can also interact with other medications much in the same way as grapefruit.
THC works differently from CBD in some ways and can have different results on dementia patients.
THC binds to CB1 receptors, which makes it like an on/off switch for various functions within the brain. This is why some studies indicate that using THC over time might be able to stop some of the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s and age-related brain degeneration. There are also studies that show THC helps to dissolve the amyloid protein plaques/clusters that build up in the brain of Alzheimer patients.
THC does create a “high” or euphoric feeling, and that initially may be problematic for patients who are struggling with balance or mobility issues. However, THC can also help stimulate appetite and relieve insomnia, which can greatly benefit those dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Using THC on Alzheimer’s disease can cause some temporary side effects like lack of coordination, dry mouth, and red eyes. These effects are temporary and only last as long as a few hours, or however long it takes the body to process the THC out of the system. THC may cause interactions with other prescription medication, so it is important to talk to your doctor if you think using THC can help with dementia.
CBD and THC are two different compounds and available in different ways, but they do share one common guideline when it comes to determining dosage. The dosage of CBD and THC that is right for each person will vary and depend on several factors. First, your body size plays a part in how much of either compound you can tolerate. Larger bodies can generally tolerate higher doses. Similarly, if you have a very fast metabolism, you can likely tolerate more CBD and THC or process it out of your body faster.
Second, the way you choose to deliver CBD and THC to your system can play a part in how it will affect you. CBD and THC both can be smoked, vaped or ingested as oil, or consumed in edible form. Smoking and vaping will allow the compounds to start to work faster in your system and generally process out of your body faster. Consuming oil or edibles will take longer for the CBD or THC to reach your system, but the effects will kick in slower and be more sustained. Regardless of the way you use CBD or THC, it is advisable to always start with the lowest dose and work your way up to a level you can tolerate and produce the best desired effects for you.
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