Cannabis and Alzheimer's Disease


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7/5/2010 5:50 PM RssIcon

Among the specific conditions for which marijuana can be recommended in other states is the agitation that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease, a much-feared and little understood degenerative brain disorder. As we will see, it is possible that cannabis may have a far more significant role to play in Alzheimer’s disease than merely treating agitation.

The disease is named after Alois Alzheimer, the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist who described the disease and the changes in the brain that characterize it in 1906. The disease usually affects people over the age of 65, though a much-less prevalent form can affect much younger people. Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging, though the risk of developing it increases with age, with its prevalence (the number of cases in the general population at any given time) doubling every five years after age 65. Some 35 million people worldwide and 5.5 million in the United States have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This equates to about 5% of people between the ages of 65 and 74 and nearly 50% of people over 85, and the numbers appear to be increasing. It is estimated that as many as 10 to 11 million Americans will have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by 2050.

The earliest symptoms of the disease are usually subtle, and include difficulty remembering recent events or recently acquired facts, and mild confusion. These problems can also occur at times in normal people, and occasionally forgetting where the keys are or someone’s name should not be a cause for alarm. However, persistent and worsening loss of memory for recent events and confusion should be evaluated by a physician.

It is important to note that other medical problems may mimic Alzheimer’s disease. These include easily-treated conditions such as depression, vitamin B-12 deficiency and hypothyroidism as well as side-effects of prescription medications that can lead to memory loss and confusion. Other more serious conditions include atherosclerosis in the brain (hardening of the arteries), Creuzfeld-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus, Huntington’s disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

As the disease progresses, symptoms of memory loss worsen such that the person repeats things he or she has just said, forgets appointments, or has difficulty finding words and carrying out familiar, everyday tasks. He or she may also become disoriented, argumentative, agitated, angry or aggressive, or withdrawn and depressed.

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known. It has been postulated that there may be a strong genetic component, as evidenced by a specific mutation seen in early-onset dementia that may occur as early as the third decade of life and that appears most frequently in families. An abnormality in a specific gene called APOE, which has several variants, has also been identified in Alzheimer’s disease that develops after age 60, though not everyone with that specific genetic abnormality develops Alzheimer’s disease, and many who have Alzheimer’s disease do not carry that particular gene.

Other factors may also play a role, in particular, oxidative processes.that cause chronic inflammation. You may recall that abnormal levels of a powerful free radical scavenger called “superoxide dismutase 1”, or SOD1 have been found in people who develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, suggesting that antioxidants play a role in that disease. You may also recall that certain compounds found in cannabis are powerful antioxidants, and that researchers at California Pacific Medical Center reported in 2004 that administering THC to mice with a genetic defect predisposing them to ALS delayed its onset and prolonged their survival. They also reported that adding THC to cultures of spinal cord neurons significantly reduced damage from oxidative free radicals. A British research group reported in 2006 that cannabinoids significantly extended survival in SOD1 deficient mice, and commented that “…these results show that cannabinoids have significant neuroprotective effects in this model of ALS…”

These studies built on earlier reports published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 indicating that cannabidiol and THC are neuroprotectant antioxidants. Is it possible that these same neuroprotectant properties could be beneficial in Alzheimer’s disease?

Please join us again next week as we continue to explore the role that cannabis may play in Alzheimer’s disease.


1 comment(s) so far...


Re: Cannabis and Alzheimer's Disease

Great research! Thank you for giving me hope in the amazing properties of this plant. I have a mother that suffers from Dementia, and I have her legal to administer this great new hope.

God Bless and continue the research!

By Alicia on  9/5/2010 4:02 PM

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