Recent studies have indicated that Alzheimers is now the 4th biggest fear amongst the UK public, after Cancer, Debt and Knife Crime. This is an indication of the severity of a disease which results in nearly 500,000 deaths worldwide every year.
Accounting for around 70% of dementia cases, Alzheimers’ most common symptom is short term memory loss. As the disease progresses, more serious symptoms can occur including behavioural issues, mood swings, directional sense and ultimately, a loss of bodily functions which results in death.
With no definitive cure, Alzheimers remains one of the most prevalent terminal illnesses in the world today. However, recent studies investigating the effect of cannabinoids on the human body have indicated that cannabis could have a preventative palliative influence on a disease that holds a life expectancy of as little as three years when diagnosed.
1. The removal of amino acids by CB2 receptors
In 2009, a Spanish study discovered that activation of CB-2 receptors through cannabinoid ingestion are “up-regulated” under chronic neuro-inflammatory circumstances such as Alzheimers disease. When this activation occurred during study, the CB-2 receptors removed ‘Amyloid beta’ amino acids from brain tissue. These amino acids are the main component cause of Alzheimers disease. This discovery was groundbreaking as it demonstrated complete removal of a main antagonist of Alzheimers.
2. Agitation Improvement using Nabilone
The Department of Psychiatry from the University of British Columbia conducted a year-long study using a 72-year-old Alzheimers sufferer in 2008. After treating the patient with Donepezil (a prescription drug for the palliative treatment of Alzheimers) for 6 months, no improvement was shown in the patient’s neurological behaviour. The patient’s medication was then changed to Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics the chemical compound of THC. A dose of 0.5mg of Nabilone twice daily severely reduced the severity of agitation during the patient’s personal care with no emergent side effects. After 6 weeks of dramatic improvement, the patient was discharged to a nursing home, where improvements of symptoms remained well controlled three months later.
3. Improvement of Motor Activity through Dronabinol
In 2006, the Berlin Psychopharmacology Department conducted a pilot study of 5 patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The objective of the study was to measure the effect of Dronabinol on nocturnal motor activity in the patients. The study discovered that not only did Dronabinol lead to a reduction in the aforementioned nocturnal motor activity, the synthetic cannabinoid treatment also lead to improvements in the patients’ Neuropsychiatric Inventory score and subscores for agitation, aberrant motor and night-time behaviours.
4. Cannabinoids Blocking Microglia Cell Death
A detailed study by the Journal of Neuroscience in 2005, discovered that activated cannabinoid receptors blocked certain negative actions of microglia cells. Put simply, microglia cells remove cell debris, toxic substances and calm inflammation in the brain. In patients with Alzheimers disease, these microglia cells begin to cease functioning properly. This 2005 study discovered that by activating cannabinoid receptors in an animal-model brain, microglia cells are restored to their regular function and the effects of Alzheimers begin to reverse.
5. Agitation Improvement through Dronabinol Dosage
In the first study of its kind, a New Jersey based medical centre tested the effects of Dronabinol in the treatment of agitation related to Alzheimer’s disease. 54 patients were tested with different doses of Dronabinol. While the results indicated that dosage was not statistically significant, all 54 patients demonstrated improvements in agitation as well as a mild decrease in the severity of other symptoms.