Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease impacts the lives of many people. Alzheimer’s disease causes brain abnormalities that negatively affect memory, thinking and functioning — it’s a distressing experience for both the patient and their loved ones. Medical researchers are always on the search for a treatment for this incurable disease.
What if the treatment they’re looking for was right under our noses the whole time? Medical marijuana can relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s while possibly slowing down its progression. It protects brain cells and addresses multiple health problems at once.
A team led by Geke A.H. van den Elsen examined the use of low THC doses to treat dementia and related symptoms. Current pharmaceuticals can work well, but they often come with risky side effects. So, the researchers understood the importance of finding an alternative with similar efficacy and fewer issues.
The study authors ended up administering medication to a total of 50 patients, with three of them withdrawing early. During the clinical trials, patients received THC or a placebo three times a day for three weeks. Their symptoms were monitored at the beginning of the study, at 14 days and at 21 days.
Since the dosage of THC administered was so small, it was hard to determine the benefits it had on the patients. But, the team found the subjects tolerated the THC doses well. They didn’t feel a “high” or other adverse effects. Van den Elsen et al. concluded the safety of the trial showed promise for studying higher doses.
Ahmed et al., a team including van den Elsen, also examined the benefits of low THC doses for patients with dementia symptoms. They wanted to gather more data on the mechanics behind THC treatment for older adults with dementia. Also, they aimed to figure out THC’s safety as a medication for older folks.
Although they had fewer subjects than the previous study, the team observed patients for a longer period and used a larger THC dose in the second half of the trial. Ten patients took a placebo or THC twice a day during three-day periods during 12 weeks.
All subjects completed the entire study without reporting any severe adverse outcomes. Since they administered 0.75 milligrams and 1.5-milligram doses throughout the trial, the team didn’t find any significant benefits for dementia. But, the patients safely took the THC for an extended period, proving its safety for further research.
Walther et al. wanted to understand how dronabinol affects the sleep patterns of people with dementia-related nighttime agitation. They viewed nighttime unrest as a burden for both patients and caregivers and wanted to get more data on treatment. Dronabinol is a synthetic cannabinoid that resembles THC.
Six patients participated in this study. Five of them had Alzheimer’s disease, while the other one had vascular dementia. They received a 2.5-milligram dose of dronabinol every day for two weeks. The team used a technique called actigraphy to monitor the patients’ motor activity while they slept.
Dronabinol not only reduced the subjects’ movement during the night, but it also reduced some of their other symptoms. Compared to the beginning of the trial, the patients had lower scores on the Neuropsychiatric Inventory, a scale to measure dementia symptoms. The team didn’t observe side effects from any of the patients, so they concluded that dronabinol’s benefits warranted more research.
You don’t have to navigate the world of medicinal cannabis alone. Our guide to Alzheimer’s disease can educate you about its symptoms and show how cannabis medicine can help. Ready to join a medical marijuana program, or need individual help? A doctor trained in cannabis medicine can answer your questions and write a recommendation.