June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so we turn our spotlight on this insidious disease and how medical cannabis may help. While there is a wealth of information about Alzheimer’s Disease, treating it, living with a loved one coping with it, and helping those afflicted are continuing challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is teaming up with the Alzheimer’s Association in the Healthy Brain Initiative. The American Association of Retired People also offers a free “Staying Sharp Brain Health Assessment” in June.
Common signs of AD are often first noticed by the person affected. Memory changes as we age, but certain types of memory loss are not typical. The CDC offers these guidelines for early assessment. People with one or more of these 10 warning signs should see a doctor to find the cause. Early diagnosis gives them a chance to seek treatment and plan.
· Memory loss that disrupts daily life: forgetting events, repeating yourself or relying on more aids to help you remember (like sticky notes or reminders).
· Challenges in planning or solving problems: having trouble paying bills or cooking recipes you have used for years.
· Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure: having problems with cooking, driving places, using a cell phone, or shopping.
· Confusion with time or place: having trouble understanding an event that is happening later or losing track of dates.
· Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations: having more difficulty with balance or judging distance, tripping over things at home, or spilling or dropping things more often.
· New problems with words in speaking or writing: having trouble following or joining a conversation or struggling to find a word you are looking for (saying “that thing on your wrist that tells time” instead of “watch”).
· Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: placing car keys in the washer or dryer or not being able to retrace steps to find something.
· Decreased or poor judgment: being a victim of a scam, not managing money well, paying less attention to hygiene, or having trouble taking care of a pet.
· Withdrawal from work or social activities: not wanting to go to church or other activities as you usually do, not being able to follow football games or keep up with what’s happening.
· Changes in mood and personality: getting easily upset in common situations or being fearful or suspicious.
We turn to Organic Remedies’ Pharmacist, Nick Signorella for answers to how therapy with medical cannabis may help. “A lot of our treatment with Alzheimer’s has to do with symptom management. Specifically, marijuana can help with food intake, agitation, sleep, and overall mood.” Signorella adds, “THC can help to increase food intake, help with agitation at lower doses, improve sleep, and improve mood/depression at lower doses.”
AD symptoms that may respond to cannabis include, sleep problems, paranoia, anxiety, dysphoria, pain, poor appetite, and weight loss. Signorella says AD patients may live a better lifestyle by examining a medical marijuana therapy. “For example, THC can inhibit acetylcholinesterase through the CB1 receptor, which theoretically could help to minimize the decline in cognitive function.” Signorella goes deeper, “Additionally CB2 receptor levels are increased in Alzheimer’s patients. The anti-inflammatory effects from CBD activating the CBD2 receptor could help reduce inflammation and neurotoxicity associated with Alzheimer’s.”
Signorella would advise AD patients to turn to the many newly created cannabis delivery options including tinctures and capsules. But, he says, “caution should be used with higher doses of THC as this can actually cause increased agitation and disorientation. In general, the starting dosage for agitation and sleep should be around 2.5-5mg of THC depending on experience. CBD on the other hand can help with agitation, typically at lower doses, usually starting around 5mg of CBD.” He adds, “I would typically start with a 1:1 ratio of THC:CBD, around 2.5mg or 5mg of each. It would depend on the specific patient, but generally lower to moderate doses of both THC and CBD would be used.”
Searching for Answers
Evidence is not as robust for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, but there is some anecdotal evidence cannabis can be beneficial. Many of the mechanisms in the prescription drug donepezil, commonly used to treat AD, are similar. Signorella says, “overall cannabis can help to improve quality of life for both the patient and caregiver, while potentially help to manage disease progression as well.”
During this June Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, remember your Organic Remedies pharmacist may be able to help!
More info: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Alzheimer’s Association have created the Healthy Brain Initiative’s (HBI) State and Local Public Health Partnerships to Address Dementia: The 2018-2023 Road Map.