Can Cannabis Treat or Cause Dementia?
Posted on December 10th, 2023 to Medical Cannabis
Medical cannabis may have the potential to treat dementia symptoms, but more research is needed.
Medical cannabis has been in the spotlight for quite some time. Despite some promising research, there’s a lot we don’t yet know about the potential benefits and risks of cannabis. For example, the research on these and cannabis isn’t yet conclusive.
Cannabis is made up of hundreds of naturally occurring chemicals called cannabinoids, as well as terpenes and flavonoids, which are chemicals that may also have health benefits. The two most well-known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
While some evidence suggests cannabis could help with the symptoms of dementia, there isn’t a medical consensus on it.
Similarly, some research suggests cannabis could protect against it (specifically Alzheimer’s disease) — but it needs to be studied further.
If you’d like to try cannabis or CBD for these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your healthcare team first. While cannabis may be helpful, it does have potential side effects and may interact with certain medications.
Is there a link between cannabis use and dementia risk?
Can smoke cannabis cause it? While there are some concerns that cannabis could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, there’s very little evidence that this is the case.
Many online sources point to a 2017 studyTrusted Source that looked at brain blood flow in people with cannabis use disorder. The study found that people who used cannabis had lower blood flow in the hippocampus, a part of the brain implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
While this is concerning, the study doesn’t directly show that people with cannabis use disorder are more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. And a study from 2020 found that CBD may improve blood flow in the hippocampus, although this study was small and only involved 15 participants.
Much more research needs to be done before a conclusion can be drawn.
Can cannabis protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
Cannabinoids may have neuroprotective properties, according to a 2019 paperTrusted Source.
This means it could protect nerve cells against damage and degeneration, reducing your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases. Neurodegenerative diseases — like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease — often lead to dementia.
More recently, a 2022 review says that there is “strong evidence” that certain chemicals in cannabis — including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids — have neuroprotective properties that could directly protect against amyloid β.
Amyloid β is a protein that forms plaques in the brain. These plaques can disrupt communication between nerve cells and cause inflammation in the brain. The amyloid buildup is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Treating dementia and Alzheimer’s with cannabinoids
Can you treat these with cannabinoids? In the past few years, some promising research has concluded that cannabis may improve certain dementia symptoms.
A 2019 review of studiesTrusted Source found that although no randomized control trial proved that cannabinoids could help with dementia, some observational studies suggested that cannabinoids could improve the symptoms. The review concluded that some of these studies had “promising results.”
One study in 2019Trusted Source examined the effects of nabilone on people with these symptoms. Nabilone is a synthetic cannabinoid often used to treat chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. It mimics THC.
When compared with patients who had a placebo, the patients who were given nabilone experienced less agitation but worse cognition (in other words, it affected their ability to think clearly).
More recently, a 2022 observational study assessed 19 people with dementia who were given 12.4 mg THC and 24.8 mg CBD per day for up to 13 months. Their symptoms seemed to improve — so much that some needed fewer medications and less assistance from caregivers.
Although this research is hopeful, there is a lot that experts still don’t know about cannabis and dementia, and further research is needed.
Getting involved in ongoing research
If you would like to use cannabis for dementia — whether it’s to treat your own symptoms or help a loved one — it’s important to seek medical advice first.
While cannabis has its benefits, it also has side effects. In older adults, who make up the majority of people with dementia, cannabis use may increase certain risksTrusted Source, including their risk of falling.
Cannabis and CBD might also interact with certain medications.
Speak with a healthcare professional to determine whether the risk is worth the potential benefit.
You could also get involved in clinical trials on dementia and cannabis. Clinical trials help researchers understand dementia better and develop effective treatments. Helping improve medical knowledge for everyone can be fulfilling, and it may also help you access potentially life changing medication. Your healthcare team can advise you on getting involved in dementia trials.
The research on cannabis and dementia is promising but not definitive. More research is needed to explore whether cannabis can treat the symptoms of dementia.
If you want to use cannabis to treat your dementia or give cannabis to a loved one with dementia, it’s important to speak with your healthcare team first.
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