Alzheimer’s Disease & Medical Marijuana

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September is World Alzheimer’s Month

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. In Pennsylvania, it is also one of Pennsylvania’s qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. As a disease that progresses gradually with continuing neurodegenerative effects, it can be a long and increasingly challenging part of an individual’s life. While there are no cures for Alzheimer’s currently, there are a number of treatments to slow the effects, as well as treatments to help maintain an individual’s comfort, and medical marijuana is one of them.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is a general term referring to an array of symptoms of mental decline that interfere with a person’s daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific form of dementia, in which brain cells are attacked, causing them to degenerate and eventually die. This creates a continual decline in thinking, memory, behavior, and general functioning. Alzheimer’s most commonly develops in individuals who are 65 years and older. Though there is not a known cause for Alzheimer’s, genetics are often considered to play a key role, putting those with a family history of Alzheimer’s at a higher risk for developing it.

Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss which may affect daily activities, trouble doing familiar tasks, difficulties with problem-solving, difficulty with speech and writing, disorientation with times and places, decreased personal hygiene, decreased judgment, mood, personality changes, and withdrawal from loved ones. Though symptoms can start out mild, they continue to become more prominent with time. 

This is a disease that can be incredibly emotionally taxing for both the patient and their loved ones, and though it can be slowed and helped with treatment, it can still prove difficult. Medical marijuana is just one such approved option in PA for treatment, and there may be quite a bit of potential for it to help.

How Can Medical Marijuana Help

On a level of basic symptom management, medical marijuana has the potential to boost mood, reduce agitation and anxiety, and aid with sleep. Additionally, medical marijuana can also be helpful for Alzheimer’s patients by stimulating appetite and helping weight management, preventing delusions, boosting motor function, and increasing sociability. With a wide range of available forms of medication, what may work best for any specific patient would be at the discretion of themselves and their medical professional.

Currently, there are studies with some evidence that suggest other ways medical marijuana can be helpful to Alzheimer’s patients. In some cases, THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana has demonstrated the ability to slow the formation of neural plaques on the brain, and in turn, potentially help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in patients. Similarly, when used in tandem with THC, CBD has shown potential in reducing oxidative injury to the brain, preventing healthy brain cells from dying off, and also helping slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Additionally, cannabinoids have demonstrated the ability to stimulate the growth of tissue in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls memory. By stimulating this neuron growth, medical marijuana may potentially be able to help improve or retain memory function in Alzheimer’s patients. 

Though Alzheimer’s can undoubtedly be truly difficult for patients struggling with it and their families, there are a number of treatment options to help slow the progression, allow individuals to continue living happy lives, and medical marijuana is just one of them. For those who are interested, absolutely consult your primary care provider, and be sure to involve a medical marijuana medical professional and your caregiver(s) in the conversation. Remember that as every patient with Alzheimer’s is different, so too will their treatment plans. Medical marijuana will be here as an option to ensure you’re able to live your life to the fullest extent if you think it’s right for you!

Disclaimer: These statements have not been reviewed for accuracy by the FDA. As always, seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider when considering trying a new treatment. Do not start or stop taking any medications without speaking to your doctor first. 

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/health/alzheimers-disease#symptoms

https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/default.htm

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447

About the Author
Katie

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