Cannabinoids & Alzheimer’s Disease

Gary Wenk (featured in above video) “is doing research on how marijuana might be helpful in stimulating aging brains and might help to fend off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

He said that in 1976, he started studying the aging brain and how to slow down that aging process. His initial studies focused on aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.

The primary focus of his research during the past 25 years was on the effects of brain inflammation. He spent many years testing experimental drugs from pharmaceutical companies; they all failed.

That led him to examine the benefits of nicotine, coffee, chocolate and finally marijuana. There were some comments in blogs by patients with MS who claimed that one puff a day from a joint seemed to reduce their pain, which he knew to be due to inflammatory processes. So he decided to investigate whether the components of marijuana, primarily THC, were anti-inflammatory.

Everything he’d ever tested failed to benefit the aged brain. Marijuana was the first drug that produced real positive changes in brain physiology and behavior. He tested the equivalent of one puff a day in young and aged rats. He was very surprised that such a low daily dose was so effective. Brain inflammation was reduced, and memory improved significantly.” source


Cannabidiol exerts a combination of neuro-protective, anti-oxidative and anti-apoptotic effects against Ab insult. Inhibition of the activity of the apoptotic enzyme caspase 3 is likely to be involved in signalling pathways for the neurotrophic effect of cannabidiol. Given the low toxicity of cannabinol shown in humans (Cunhaet al. 1980; Consroeet al. 1991), this non-psychoactive component of marijuana may play an important role in counteracting neuronal cell death occurring in Alzheimer’s disease. PDF


Alzheimer’s Disease

Source There is a significant amount of evidence regarding the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids in preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and the symptoms associated with it. Cannabinoids as a viable treatment option for those with Alzheimers’ is further supported by U.S. government funded research that concluded THC & CBD are powerful anti-oxidant and neuroprotectant agents.

Key Research Findings:

A collection of summaries, quotes and/or conclusions from relevant scientific studies and systematic reviews.

Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. (2003)
  • In 2003, the US Department of Health and Human Serves secured a medical patent on cannabinoids. The following is a summary: “The cannabinoids [CBD & THC primarily] are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
Neuroprotective effect of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component from Cannabis sativa,on b-amyloid-induced toxicityin PC12 cells. (2004)
  • “The results reported that cannabidiol exerts a combination of neuro-protective, anti-oxidative and anti-apoptotic effects against b-amyloid-induced toxicity. Given the low toxicity of cannabinol shown in humans, this non-psychoactive component of marijuana may play an important role in counteracting neuronal cell death occurring in Alzheimers disease.” 
Cannabinoids for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: moving toward the clinic. (2014)
  • “…endocannabinoid signaling has been demonstrated to modulate numerous concomitant pathological processes, including neuroinflammation, excitotoxicity, mitochondrial dysfunction, and oxidative stress.”
  • “Interestingly, neuronal damage increases the production of endocannabinoids, which may provide a defense mechanism against toxicity.”
Safety and Efficacy of Medical Cannabis Oil for Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: An-Open Label, Add-On, Pilot Study. (2016)
  • Conclusion: “Adding MCO (Medical Cannabis Oil) to AD patients’ pharmacotherapy is safe and a promising treatment option.”
Amyloid proteotoxicity initiates an inflammatory response blocked by cannabinoids (2016)
  • “The beta amyloid (Aβ) and other aggregating [pro-inflammatory]  proteins in the brain increase with age and are frequently found within neurons.  Cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] stimulate the removal of intraneuronal Aβ, block the inflammatory response, and are protective.” 
Cannabinoids remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells (Article. 2016)
  • “The researchers found that high levels of amyloid beta were associated with cellular inflammation and higher rates of neuron death. They demonstrated that exposing the cells to THC reduced amyloid beta protein levels and eliminated the inflammatory response from the nerve cells caused by the protein, thereby allowing the nerve cells to survive.”


Why Cannabis?

Source In the absence of effective conventional interventions for treating Alzheimer’s disease, some experts have begun to explore the possibility that medical cannabis may hold the key to disrupting the neurodegenerative process that drives the disease’s progression. Researchers are particularly interested in how cannabis medicines might interact with the body’s own endocannabinoid system, which regulates brain function and could play a neuroprotective role.

Research Findings

Scientific inquiry into the impact of cannabis medicines on Alzheimer’s disease has gained momentum in recent years, leading to the following notable studies:

  • New findings presented at Neuroscience 2018 concluded that “Treating Alzheimer’s disease mice with the psychoactive compound found in marijuana improves memory and reduces neuronal loss, suggesting a possible therapy for the human disease.”
  • A 2016 study by the Salk Institute found that THC (one of the primary compounds found in most cannabis medicines) helped to reverse the buildup of harmful amyloid plaques within the brain that contribute to neurodegeneration through the death of brain cells. Researchers also found that THC reduces inflammation, which contributes to brain cell damage.
  • A 2016 study performed by researchers in Israel administered medical cannabis oil to a sample group of Alzheimer’s patients and observed a significant reduction in dementia symptoms. The study’s authors concluded that cannabis treatment was a “safe and promising treatment option” for addressing Alzheimer’s symptoms.
  • A 2014 study appearing in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease also examined the impact of THC on reducing amyloid plaque buildup and produced positive results. Researchers concluded 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.”

These findings are very encouraging and we’re eager to learn more as new data become available. It’s also important to note that researchers focusing on cannabis-based treatments for Alzheimer’s disease have cited the difficulty of obtaining proper licensing as an obstacle to performing clinical trials. Despite its availability to patients in many states through regulated dispensaries, American researchers may only obtain cannabis from a limited supply produced by the federal government. Future expansion of research opportunities could open the door to more extensive studies and dramatically advance our understanding of how cannabis may benefit patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other diseases.


Marijuana Compound Removes Toxic Alzheimer’s Protein From The Brain

An active compound in marijuana called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been found to promote the removal of toxic clumps of amyloid beta protein in the brain, which are thought to kickstart the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The finding supports the results of previous studies that found evidence of the protective effects of cannabinoids, including THC, on patients with neurodegenerative disease.

“Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” says one of the team, David Schubert from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California.

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