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Cannabis Beneficial for Dementia Symptoms, Pilot Study Finds

A small open-label trial conducted by Israeli researchers found that THC helps relieve symptoms of dementia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Findings in a new study published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggest that cannabis extracts containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are beneficial at relieving symptoms in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

THC is the most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis. The psychoactive compound activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system to elicit chemical responses designed to regulate various processes and keep them balanced.

A team of Israeli researchers from the Israel and Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University examined the effects of THC on 11 Alzheimer’s patients over the course of four weeks. After the cannabis treatments, the researchers recorded a significant reduction in the Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scale, a well-established research rating tool designed to track the progression of the disease.

The researchers also recorded a significant reduction in behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, including agitation, aggression, irritability, apathy, delusions, and sleep. Those who care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease commonly are affected by physical and emotional burdens, but the study found that giving patients cannabis oil with THC also significantly reduced caregiver stress.

“Adding [medical cannabis oil] to [Alzheimer’s disease] patients’ pharmacotherapy is safe and a promising treatment option,” the researchers concluded.

The investigation was an open-label trial, meaning both the researchers and patients were aware that they were being given the medical cannabis oil with THC with no chance of placebo.

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable and progressive type of dementia that destroys memory, behavior and thinking. The buildup of amyloid-beta protein fragments and twisted fibers of tau in the brain inhibit cell-to-cell communication and the transport of nutrients, eventually causing brain cell death. Those with the disease gradually lose their memory, and frustrations over the loss of cognitive function often leads to depression, anxiety, mood swings, and irritability. It’s the most common type of dementia, affecting an estimated 5.5 million Americans.

This trial’s findings are just the latest in a growing body of evidence suggesting cannabis’ efficacy for Alzheimer’s disease. Previous studies have found THC to be effective at lowering levels of amyloid-beta peptide, the hallmark characteristic and key contributor to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Long-term inflammation encourages the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but cannabinoids have also shown to provide neuroprotective effects by helping stimulate the removal of amyloid-beta and blocking the inflammatory response.

Of the 29 states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, just 11 – Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Ohio and Rhode Island — have approved the substance specifically for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

You can access the entire study, “Safety and efficacy of medical cannabis oil for behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia: An-open label, add-on, pilot study,” via IOS Press Content Library.

Read more about what research has so far discovered about cannabis and dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s disease by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies through our news feed.