At Apollo, we have a long-term care team that works with caregivers to assist patients with their medication management. We encourage anyone who is considering medical cannabis to speak with a medical cannabis healthcare professional. This will allow you to best understand and manage your symptoms through evidence-based practices. This will also give you access to a team of medical professionals!
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease and the most common cause of dementia. With over 500,000 Canadians currently living with dementia, it is quite probable you know someone in your life that will receive this diagnosis. There are different stages and severities that an individual with Alzheimer’s progress through from ‘Early Stage’ to ‘End of Life’, as cognitive function and other symptoms worsen over time.1
Here, we discuss how CBD and medical cannabis can potentially alleviate or lessen unwanted symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and what clinical research and studies have found so far.
What does Alzheimer’s do to the brain?
In Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal levels of beta-amyloid proteins clump together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function. Emerging evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s-related brain changes may result from a complex interplay among abnormal tau proteins (causing Neurofibrillary tangles), beta-amyloid proteins.
To put it simply, neurons in the brain cease functioning and begin losing their connections with other neurons in your brain. This causes a chain effect over time as neurons lose their ability to connect, metabolize, and repair.2
While we are aware of some precursor indicators such as head trauma or other diseases, no one truly knows what causes dementia. According to The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, the disease does not generally run in the family and less than 5% of all cases are inherited.
Traditional Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s can be difficult to notice as it can affect and show in every person differently, and can take years before fuelling any noticeable symptoms present.
- Cognitive abilities including speaking, simple task completion, and decision making can begin to diminish
- Emotional intelligence, excitement, and empathy can be heavily affected, especially in the later stages
- Unusual behaviour, including agitation, aggressiveness, and restlessness.
- Social withdrawal
How can CBD help?
CBD has shown the potential in multiple research studies to alleviate varying symptoms caused by Alzheimer’s Disease through the body’s endocannabinoid system. As we have many CB1 & CB2 receptors throughout the body, cannabinoids help manage many of our internal systems. You can find high levels of naturally occurring cannabinoid receptor-1 (or CB1) in the brain – especially in the cortical areas, midbrain, and hindbrain.7
CBD has neuroprotective properties
Antidepressants possess numerous neuroprotective properties, such as preventing the formation of amyloid plaques, elevation of BDNF levels, reduction of microglia activation, and decreased levels of proinflammatory mediators. Similarly, CBD has shown to have neuroprotective properties through multiple research studies and has the potential to decrease the production of inflammatory cytokines, the activation of microglial cells, and brain leucocytes infiltration.3 This can assist the immune system to naturally protect against plaque formation.
CBD reduces inflammation
Multiple studies have shown that CBD can help reduce chronic pain by affecting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation, and interacting with neurotransmitters. CBD has become renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, especially for those with conditions such as arthritis. Its ability to suppress immune responses allows it to slow down the body’s normal releasing of inflammatory molecules. “Exogenous cannabinoids have been shown to suppress T-cell-mediated immune responses by primarily inducing apoptosis and suppressing inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Such observations indicate that targeting cannabinoid receptor–ligand interactions may constitute a novel window of opportunity to treat inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.”6
CBD can reduce agitation and/or anxiety
Some clinical trials have shown that both CBD & THC have been shown to reduce the agitation and aggression that is common in patients with severe Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada is continuing ongoing research around the effects of cannabis on both mood and anxiety in dementia patients. They have noted that cannabinoids interact differently with the body and could be a safer alternative to traditional medicine that can cause harmful side effects.
Despite the possibility of being able to help with certain symptoms, CBD can’t help with the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease that occur as the disease progresses such as:
- trouble speaking or writing
- decreased judgment
- withdrawal from loved ones
- memory loss
Can CBD be used to help prevent Alzheimer’s?
Currently, there is only preliminary evidence to show that cannabis or cannabis oil (both CBD & THC) can help stop, reverse or prevent dementia. However, it is interesting to note that in 2001, scientists employed by the US government, Department of Health and Human Services filed a patent for the applications of cannabinoids as possible neuroprotectants in neurodegenerative diseases and CBD (cannabidiol) was listed as a major proponent. In this patent, it is stated that CBD and other cannabinoids have antioxidant properties that can prevent oxidative cell death often seen in conditions, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.7
Another study shows that CB2 receptors occur in high concentrations around amyloid plaques which are improperly folded proteins that are known to develop and accumulate specifically in Alzheimer’s disease. When these cb2 receptors are activated, it calls on macrophages, which are cells that can come in and remove these plaques, or eat away at them.
It’s important to talk with a medical cannabis healthcare practitioner before trying CBD on your own. At Apollo, our healthcare team works with hundreds of patients weekly to assist them in finding what products and dosages will provide them with the best symptom relief and improved quality of life.
Individual doses vary depending on a variety of factors, including:
- The condition you’re treating
- Your individual body chemistry
- The concentration of CBD
- Your age
- Any other medications you’re taking
As the research around medical cannabis and dementias continues to grow, we look forward to being able to further improve the quality of life for those diagnosed with AD. In our practice, we hear reports from our patients that CBD oil and low doses of THC help with symptoms of agitation, cognitive dysfunction, and improve appetite. For AD patients, we would most likely recommend a cannabis oil or softgel which is the easiest to accurately dose and administer.
Apollo Cannabis Clinics Can Help
Cannabis treatment options remain available to those in Canada who are looking for alternative treatment options. At Apollo, we have a long term care team that works with caregivers to assist with patients’ medication management. We encourage anyone considering using medical cannabis to speak with a healthcare specialist at Apollo. This will allow you to best manage your symptoms through evidence based practices, and be backed by a team of medical professionals.
If you or someone you know is considering CBD or medical cannabis to assist with AD, we offer free appointments 7 days a week, Canada-wide.
If you are interested in speaking with a healthcare specialist about how medical cannabis could help improve your quality of life, you can book your free virtual appointment here.
Notable Alzheimer’s Disease & Cannabis Research Studies
- In 2016, Salk Institute scientists have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.8
- The Alzheimer Society Research Program has funded research on how endocannabinoids affect mood and anxiety in dementia and how the synthetic cannabinoid nabilone can treat agitation in Alzheimer’s disease. “By comparing the effects of nabilone with a placebo, we set out to determine whether nabilone can reduce agitation without causing the major side effects common to other medications.Nabilone not only significantly reduced agitation compared to the placebo, but it also improved behavioural symptoms overall. The most common side effect we found was increased sedation.”9
- “We have demonstrated that THC competitively inhibits AChE, and furthermore, binds to the AChE PAS and diminishes aggregation. In contrast to previous studies aimed at utilizing cannabinoids in Alzheimer’s disease therapy, our results provide a mechanism whereby the THC molecule can directly impact Alzheimer’s disease pathology.It is noteworthy that THC is a considerably more effective inhibitor of AChE-induced Aβ deposition than the approved drugs for Alzheimer’s disease treatment, donepezil and tacrine, which reduced aggregation by only 22% and 7%, respectively, at twice the concentration used in our studies.”10