Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease are perhaps one of the most heartbreaking afflictions to witness. They are not like other diseases where you have something to point to like a tumor an infectious disease. While difficult and challenging, most diseases leave the core of the person more or less intact until the end. A person may be weak or disabled, but they retain their essential self. Their memories. Their personality.
Alzheimer’s is different. It is like watching a person evaporate before your very eyes. You see their personality, their character, and their presence slowly siphoned off until they are a shadow of who they once were.
Cannabis: A New Hope for Alzheimer's
Treatments for Alzheimer’s are largely ineffective, turning diagnoses into slow death sentences for patients and their families. Unexpectedly, a new hope is on the horizon from the most surprising of directions: cannabis.
The very same plant famous for stoner lapses in memory and apathetic resignation may actually heal and prevent the damage caused by the ravages of Alzheimer’s.
To understand how we first need to look at what is really going on in this disease.
The Roots of Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer’s is ostensibly caused by the accumulation of what are known as Beta-Amyloid plaques: large globs of broken, damaged, and misfolded proteins. These garbage piles of protein get bigger and bigger and end up disrupting the normal functions of neurons. Eventually, they get big enough that neurons start to die off.
Go one step deeper, though, and at the source of these plaques is inflammation. Properly managed, inflammation is a crucial process for the defense of the body. But when it gets out of control, it can wreak havoc. Out of control inflammation is implicated in dozens of health conditions ranging from autoimmune disorders to heart conditions to arthritis.
In Alzheimer’s it damages neurons. This damage breaks down proteins, so they form into plaques. The immune system recognizes the plaques as dangerous and foreign, so the inflammatory response continues, creating more plaques, and so on. Research has found that by stopping inflammation, we may be able to halt the progression of Alzheimer’s.
4 Ways Cannabis Fights Alzheimer's Disease
The endocannabinoid system is deeply involved in the regulation of many biological processes, and in the case of Alzheimer’s it can act in multiple ways to help slow or even reverse its progression.
- Inflammation. Cannabis is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which forms the basis for much of its medicinal value in other conditions. It manages the root source of the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
- Neuroprotection. Studies show that CBD has neuroprotective properties, protecting cells from harmful effects of inflammation and preventing cell death. One researcher commented that it appears to “support the brain’s intrinsic repair mechanisms.”
- Neurogenesis. That’s right; cannabis has been shown to promote the growth of new brain cells. Stimulating neural growth is critical for recovering from neurodegenerative conditions and recovering from cognitive deficits incurred by cellular damage.
- Removing Plaques. One of the most compelling studies from the prestigious Salk Institute showed that small doses of THC actually reduces the beta-amyloid plaques that accumulate in Alzheimers. No other conventional treatment has been able to demonstrate this, making cannabis a promising target for future treatment protocols.
Cannabis and Alzheimers: Moving Forward
Clearly, these are exciting findings. A small study in patients found that cannabis helped lessen Alzheimer’s symptoms, reducing the delusions, agitation, aggression, and apathy. It seemed to bring the life back to the patients.
But this is just one small study. Just like many of other studies cited here are just initial explorations into its potential. We have a long way to go before we arrive at any sort of Alzheimer’s Cannabis Protocol.
It will require real research. And that research will have to be guided by reason and results, not outdated and political moralizing.