Alzheimer’s Research UK donates £300,000 to fund medical cannabis trial

  • Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK
  • Alzheimer’s Research UK has donated £300,000 to fund a clinical trial looking into the effectiveness of cannabis at treating Alzheimer’s
  • Sativex will be the cannabinoid-based medication used in the trial
  • Currently, Sativex is only licensed in the UK to treat MS

Alzheimer’s Research UK has announced that it will be providing funding for a medical cannabis-based clinical trial at King’s College London.

The investigation will look into the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for dementia patients.

Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s not only experience memory loss, but can also experience symptoms of agitation and an increase in aggressive behaviour.

Of the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, around half of patients experience the latter symptoms.

Alzheimer’s Research, the UK’s largest dementia research charity, has committed nearly £300,000 to the Sativex® for the Treatment of AgitatioN in Dementia (STAND) trial, which will investigate the effectiveness of cannabis at reducing agitation in Alzheimer’s patients.

Sativex, a pharmaceutical, cannabinoid-based 1:1 ratio (CBD:THC) spray, is currently only licensed to be sold to MS patients to help relieve muscles spasms and tightness. It is produced by GW Pharmaceuticals.

The study will be conducted at King’s College London.

Volunteers with Alzheimer’s, aged between 55-90, who live in care homes and display symptoms of aggression or agitation will be chosen for the study.

Participants will be given Sativex for four weeks, with researchers comparing the results from the control group and those given the pharmaceutical spray.

Current treatments for behavioural and psychiatric symptoms of dementia are very limited, and we desperately need to develop alternatives.
– Prof Dag Aarsland, the lead researcher on the STAND trial

Explaining why research into medical cannabis as a treatment for dementia, Prof Dag Aarsland, the lead researcher on the STAND trial, said:

“While people most often associate Alzheimer’s disease with memory problems, this is just one aspect of a complex condition that can affect people in different ways.

“Many people with Alzheimer’s can become agitated or aggressive, and this can pose difficulties for the person with the condition and those closest to them.

“Current treatments for behavioural and psychiatric symptoms of dementia are very limited, and we desperately need to develop alternatives.

“Doctors sometimes prescribe anti-psychotic medications, and while these drugs can have important benefits, these need to be weighed against the risk of very serious side effects.

“One of the key questions the STAND trial will answer is whether it is practical to give someone with dementia a drug through a mouth spray when they may be exhibiting severe symptoms of agitation and aggression.

“We will also get some indication of whether Sativex is effective at reducing symptoms, although larger studies will be needed to get firm evidence of this.”

Discussing why his charity decided to fund the ground-breaking research, Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK, added:

“With no new dementia treatments in over 15 years, it is vital that we test a wide range of approaches to find effective ways to help people living with the condition.

“While a major focus for dementia research is to develop drugs that slow or stop the progression of the physical diseases that cause dementia, what really matters is that a medicine benefits people’s day-to-day lives.

“The STAND trial opens the door to a treatment that may help to alleviate an extremely challenging set of symptoms, and Alzheimer’s Research UK is extremely grateful to our supporters for making this important work possible.

“This is a rigorous clinical trial of a medication that has been carefully prepared, and which will be tested in circumstances where the health and wellbeing of participants can be closely monitored.

“There is no good evidence that using cannabis in an uncontrolled setting could benefit people living with dementia, and we know that the drug can involve risks including short-term memory and thinking problems, coordination difficulties and anxiety.”