While there’s no definitive research showing cannabis as an effective treatment for dementia, there’s plenty of research in the works. This is good news for those of us with aging parents––as well as for aging individuals genetically predisposed to Alzeimers.
As more states and countries legalize cannabis for recreational, medicinal, or a combination of the two purposes, the impacts this plant can have on the brain have researchers analyzing the possibilities.
The Alzheimer’s Society with data collected in the UK claims that while we lack research studies proving the plant and its derivatives can stop, slow, prevent or reverse the diseases that cause dementia, some studies highlight the possibility of using it for behavioral symptom management. Namely agitation and aggression. Several studies back these claims.
One study published by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) found some limited evidence that suggests medical cannabis could assist in the treatment of agitation, disinhibition, aberrant motor behavior, nocturnal behavior disorders, and irritability. It also could help with aberrant vocalization and resting care. All of these are neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with dementia.
Discover Magazine reported that Andreas Zimmer conducted a study analyzing the effects of cannabis on mouse brains. Some of the mice were 18 months old, approximately equivalent to a 70-year-old human regarding mental capacity. This is usually when mice begin showing cognitive decline, struggling with mazes and other complex mental tasks––including socializing.
But Zimmer’s senior rodents are special. “You can’t tell the difference between them and two-month-old mice,” Zimmer explained.
Rather than giving the mice FDA-approved memory drugs or trying innovative investigational procedures, Zimmer administers cannabis. He uses an osmotic pump that’s surgically implanted just under the abdominal skin. This device leaks synthetic THC steadily for 28 days, which has allowed him to study THC’s effects on his subjects and compare the research to THC-free mice.
“The effects are extremely robust and easy to see,” explained Zimmer. “It works reliably on every measure of cognition we have for mice.”
Zimmer’s THC-related cognitive findings were published in Nature Medicine in 2017. Not long after, his results were validated by other researchers.
So can cannabis treat dementia? Perhaps. But these findings raise the demand for more research so we can eventually definitively say it’s a viable option for treatment.