Cannabis Oil – A New Hope for Dementia

Dementia is now one of the fastest growing diseases in the world especially in developing nations like China. There are an estimated 46 million people worldwide suffering from AD with a new case every 3.2 seconds. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is by far the leading cause of dementia.

A recent analysis of the prevalence of AD in the EU was performed. Prevalence is the total number of cases within a specified population. Overall, out of 8.7 million people between the ages of 60 and 95, the prevalence rate was 1.55%. Italy had the highest rate at 2.09%, Ireland was one of the lowest at 1.08%. While Turkey enjoyed a very modest 0.44%.

In the US, by the time you reach 85 you stand a 50/50 chance of developing this dreaded disease, and it’s expected to triple worldwide over the next 50 years.

The Telegraph published an article in 2013 highlighting a new study from Cambridge University which suggested that the rising rate of AD in the UK to be due to better sanitation and less disease which impairs the immune system, so the article states. Taken together, infection levels, sanitation and urbanization account for 43 per cent of the variation in rates of Alzheimer’s between different countries, the study found.

THE DRUGS

Whatever the cause, AD is now pandemic. Two categories of drugs are currently used: acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA receptor antagonists (blockers). The first category is for early AD only. It helps improve memory among other things. The latter is for more severe cases but it does not prevent nor decrease the progression of AD. Neither drug category reduces the buildup of amyloid beta-peptide (Aβ), the hallmark lesions of AD. What this means for us is that we need better medications.

ENTER THC

One possibility that’s gaining momentum is the use of cannabis oil and/or THC preparations for treating AD.

The groundwork for investigation of THC and its impact on AD started a decade ago. Eubanks et al demonstrated that THC may be a far superior medication than the currently prescribed medicines.

Compared to currently approved drugs prescribed for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, THC is a considerably superior inhibitor of Abeta [amyloid beta] aggregation, and this study provides a previously  unrecognized molecular mechanism through which cannabinoid molecules may directly impact the progression of this debilitating disease…and this study provides a previously unrecognized molecular mechanism through which cannabinoid molecules may directly impact the progression of this debilitating disease.

The authors demonstrated that the active component of marijuana, Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, see figure 1), competitively inhibits one of the key enzyme systems in the brain related to memory function and many other activities, called acetylcholinesterase (AchE, see figure 2). It was also found to prevent AChE-induced Aβ aggregation, the key pathological marker of Alzheimer’s disease.

THC

Predicted binding mode of THC (gray) to AChE (orange ribbon)

Chuanhai Cao, et al at the University of South Florida also reported that THC was a potent inhibitor of Αβ formation. Leading the authors to conclude that:

These sets of data strongly suggest that THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions and pathways.

This year, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease published a small Israeli pilot study on 11 AD patients to determine the safety and efficacy of THC in treating AD patients. The title: ‘Safety and Efficacy of Medical Cannabis Oil for Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: An-Open Label, Add-On, Pilot Study’ by Shelef et al.

They were able to demonstrate significant reductions in several important behavioral parameters including reductions in the number of delusions, decreased agitation/aggression, diminished irritability and apathy, better sleep and reductions in caregiver distress.

Concluding that adding medical cannabis oil (MCO) to AD patients’ pharmacotherapy is safe and a promising treatment option.

A WORD OF HOPE

This last study is a clinical trial involving human subjects and one of the few investigations using marijuana on real patients. We are finally starting to see more trials like this especially from Israel which has relaxed its prohibitions on testing humans. In time these early experiments may pave the way to the formation of new and novel ways to combat this terrible disease.

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