One of the most serious and incurable diseases many older people are dealing with today is Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, early signs of Alzheimer’s disease are even showing up in people in their 40’s and 50’s. Dementia can be an underlying condition of Alzheimer’s as well as Parkington’s disease and Huntington’s disease. An entire family can be devastated when a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other diseases that cause dementia.
What Is The Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease And Dementia?
Becoming forgetful to some degree is not that uncommon in older people, especially at age 65 or more. Dementia is a broad, general term for a slow decline in mental abilities that can eventually interfere in a person’s daily life. Today, one of the most common causes of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, dementia in itself is not. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases today.
Even though dementia can be found in some older people, it is not a normal part of aging for most. Dementia is caused when brain cells are damaged. This damage can cause the inability to communicate normally, which in turn can affect feelings and behavior.
Although dementia and Alzheimer’s do have many similarities, they are not the same thing. Alzheimer’s is classified as a degenerative disease of the brain that is caused by changes in the brain that are very complex. This leads to symptoms of dementia that will worsen gradually over time. Early signs of Alzheimer’s are problems remembering new information. This is because Alzheimer’s usually impacts the part of the brain that deals with learning first.
As Alzheimer’s symptoms continue to advance and become more severe, behavior, disorientation, and confusion will worsen. Eventually, physical symptoms will become evident. Things such as speaking, swallowing, walking and other motor abilities will be affected as well.
How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?
Although there is no cure as yet for Alzheimer’s, there are several medications that doctors prescribe that seem to help slow down the progression of the disease to some extent. When a person is first diagnosed with the disease, in the early to moderate stage, it can be treated with medications called cholinesterase inhibitors. The drugs prescribed can be Razadyne (galantamine), Exelon (rivastigmine), and Aricept (donepezil).
While scientists do not yet totally understand how the cholinesterase inhibitors work, it is thought they prevent the breakdown of a brain chemical called acetylcholine. This chemical deals with thinking and memory. Even if these drugs are helpful to some extent with symptoms and behavior, as Alzheimer’s advances and the brain will produce less acetylcholine, they can lose their effect eventually.
As an Alzheimer’s patient progresses with the disease, doctors may then prescribe another medication called memantine. It’s main function is to decrease symptoms for a while longer so the patient can their ability to things like dressing and going to the bathroom unassisted themselves for several more months without the help of a caregiver. This is beneficial for both the patient and their caregiver.
It is thought that memantine helps regulate an important brain chemical know as glutamate. When this chemical is produced excessively in the brain, it is believed to contribute to brain cell death. Other drugs that might be prescribed in some combination are Aricept, Exelon patch, and Namzaric.
CBD Studies And Memory Loss
As on now, there have been no conclusive studies that prove that cannabis or CBD oil can prevent or reverse dementia. However, in 2017 a literature review was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology that had examined preclinical discoveries for the therapeutic properties of CBD for treating Alzheimer’s. The authors of this study concluded that there was ‘proof of principle’ that CBD and possibly CBD/THC combinations posed therapeutic benefits for AD therapy.
Can CBD “Heal” The Brain?
Since there have not yet been any true studies conducted with CBD and healing in the brain, it can be hard to say if it would work any or at all. However, one of the main hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is a build-up of clumps of protein in the brain called amyloid. In some studies where nerve cells were grown in a lab, some components of cannabis, including THC, showed that it appeared to remove this protein.
In a study that was conducted using mice that had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, they were given both CBD and THC. The study showed that the mice had improvements in learning. It also showed they had less evidence of amyloid clumps in their bodies.
The Alzheimer’s Society of the United Kingdom states that there is no evidence yet that shows that CBD oil can cease or even slow the dementia process, however, the organization does say that high doses of CBD could be useful in managing some of the symptoms of dementia such as anxiety and agitation.
Can CBD Make Dementia Worse?
In the United States, so far 30 states have legalized marijuana for its medicinal use, however, there is still limited studies research and studies on the herb’s affect on dementia patients because it is so difficult to get trials approved. One doctor named Nathan Herrmann has stated, “Based on some preliminary studies in other populations, like younger individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as animal studies, there is at least some reason to theorize these drugs would have a benefit,”
Herrmann also said, “Therefore, there is a crucial need to do more, and larger studies in patients with Alzheimer’s disease to determine their effects and side effects.” Herrmann did warn that marijuana-based treatments will probably not improve cognition in dementia. “In fact, there is good reason to be concerned that cannabinoids could make cognitive function worse, either by direct effects or by causing excessive sedation,” he stated.
Pros And Cons Of CBD For Alzheimer’s Treatment
While it would seem according to the very limited research that has been done on the effects of CBD in mice suspected of having Alzheimer’s, there could be some benefits to be had by reducing amyloid clumps and increased learning ability, it is unclear if the same benefits could be had for humans.
On a positive note, it is thought that it might help humans with Alzheimer’s disease to be less agitated and perhaps suffer less from anxiety that is often caused by the disease, especially in those in the moderate to last stages. There may also be the benefit of reducing inflammation. However, even these benefits will remain unclear until more extensive research and studies are conducted with humans.