With 10 million new cases diagnosed each year, there are about 50 million people worldwide suffering from dementia. Since there are so many people suffering from dementia, there is a need for a cure or relief of the symptoms.
As the legalization of marijuana spreads, many are turning to the cannabis plant for answers.
Are there any benefits of medical marijuana for dementia? Keep reading below to find out what the evidence shows.
What is Cannabis?
Many people know cannabis as marijuana. The cannabis or marijuana plant is a controversial plant known for creating feelings of happiness and relaxation when taken recreationally.
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the ingredient that causes the feeling of euphoria or “high.” The THC ingredient in cannabis is one of the reasons why this plant is illegal.
This plant also has more chemical compounds than just THC. Research has found more than seventy active cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Each of these cannabinoids produces a different effect on the human body.
Cannabinoids also exist in the human body in the form of endocannabinoids. Let’s just say if our bodies didn’t already have endocannabinoid receptors, we wouldn’t be able to absorb the effects of THC and other cannabinoids.
What Are the Effects of Cannabis in the Brain?
The way cannabis affects the brain is by targeting the endocannabinoid system. This system consists of two receptors the CB1 and CB2.
CB1 can be found in the hippocampus — the memory learning center of the brain. This receptor can also exist throughout the brain.
The CB2 receptor, on the other hand, is found on more specialized cells such as the microglia.
Most people don’t realize that the endocannabinoid system affects many areas of the brain such as memory, appetite, and even how the body responds to stress. As we already mentioned, the body produces its own endocannabinoids, which have control over how these react.
When people consume cannabis, the receptors will react by releasing neurochemicals in the brain. This will change how the brain cells interact and process different functions such as our appetite, mood, pain, memory, and learning.
The THC component on the cannabis plant stimulates the CB1 receptor, which causes the effects of feeling high.
However, there’s another component of the cannabis plant called cannabidiol or CBD. This component affects the brain differently — it binds CB1 and CB2 together to prevent one or the other from becoming over stimulated.
Why is Cannabis Associated with Dementia?
Before we make the connection between cannabis and dementia, it’s important to underline exactly what dementia is.
Many people incorrectly think of dementia and old age. Dementia should not be mistaken or referred to as “senile dementia” or “senility.”
Most people also put dementia in its own mental disease category. However, dementia is a group of symptoms that are associated with memory loss and the decline of thinking skills. These symptoms are usually severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily life.
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all the cases recorded. Vascular dementia, the second most common type, is usually the side effect after a stroke.
When someone suffers from dementia, the hippocampus that contains the CB1 receptor is put at risk. This is thought to be the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
The damage to the CB1 receptors is what causes the memory and learning problems.
Although the damage to the CB1 receptors plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s, the CB2 is also a culprit. Scans on Alzheimer’s patients show a higher than normal number of CB2 receptors in the brain.
How Does Cannabis Prevent or Treat Dementia?
Although some of the research that proves how cannabis helps dementia is still inconclusive, there are a few ways in which cannabis can improve their function.
For starters, the CBD component in the cannabis plant helps reduce the inflammation in the brain. It also helps by removing some of the oxygen buildups in the brain. And it works as a stimulant and neuroprotectant.
Other studies show that certain components of the cannabis plant, such as THC help to remove hallmark amyloid clumps from nerve cells. The studies conducted in the lab showed the clumps reduced.
A different study showed that cannabis targets CB2 receptors and control the microglia, which prevents the immune system from over interacting with the brain.
As a bonus, medical marijuana also helps reduce de anxiety and stress that most dementia patients suffer from.
Even if there’s no conclusive evidence cannabis helps combat the mental deterioration caused by dementia, there are benefits that can treat the symptoms. For example, cannabis can help those suffering from dementia by reducing the side effects such as confusion, aggression, and agitation.
What Does the Research Say?
There’s still a lot of research needed to prove whether or not cannabis can indeed benefit those suffering from dementia. Some studies, however, have shown the use of cannabis long term can cause memory loss.
Other studies are more focused on deciphering the behavioral effects of THC and other components of cannabis.
There’s a debate on whether or not the Alzheimer’s society will continue funding the effects of cannabis to treat dementia.
Medical Marijuana for Dementia: The Bottom Line
Does medical marijuana for dementia have any benefits? The answer depends on who you ask. The debate on whether or not medical marijuana alleviates dementia continues pending further studies.
However, cannabis does help those suffering from dementia feel calmer and fight aggression and confusion.
If you want to read about 10 health benefits of medical marijuana treatments, check out this article.