Many people wonder: is there any use of medical marijuana for dementia?
Dementia is debilitating not only for those who have it but for those around the patient as well, as the progression is often slow, rendering it excused and undetected for a long time. It is written off as a sign of old age, expected, the memory loss referred to as “senior moments,” but there is more to it than that. As a cognitive decline, there is an age-related component to it as the brain, like the body, slows and decreases in its restorative capabilities, which can compound the decline as other conditions and life changes occur.
While scientists have actually seen some success in using medical marijuana for dementia to combat the development of beta-amyloid plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function, they are also showing varying results in utilizing it to address the illness. Medical marijuana and dementia have been on the researchers’ radar for quite a while, so let’s dig a bit deeper into this.
This post is intended as information and for general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is recommended that you talk to a healthcare professional about this before introducing cannabinoids into your daily routine (especially if you have been diagnosed with any medical conditions or are under any medication). It is not recommended to drive or operate any machinery when using cannabis- or hemp-derived products. Use responsibly!
Medical Marijuana: What is That?
Medical marijuana (MMJ), or medical cannabis (MC), can be defined as weed derivatives known as cannabinoids, which are prescribed by specialists to alleviate certain symptoms. Due to governmental restrictions, MC and its potential have not yet been thoroughly studied, resulting in the lack of evidence-based cynical studies that could define the effectiveness and safety of MC.
Recreational Cannabis or Marijuana Legality
The 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA) states that the use and possession of weed are illegal under federal law for any purpose. Under the CSA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance which is considered to be dangerous to use and is not accepted in medicine.
However, 2018 gave the US the Agriculture Improvement Act, which differentiates the cannabis plant and hemp, with the latter containing no more than 0.3% of THC, and makes it federally legal. Being federally legal does not necessarily mean that its legality is the same in all states: some states have completely legalized hemp and its derivatives (for consumption, possession, trade, and cultivation), while some states have more strict restrictions and additional regulations.
MC is legal with a doctor’s recommendation in 37 states, four out of five permanently inhabited U.S. territories, and D.C. Eleven other states have limitations on THC, allowing CBD-rich products. Although cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibits federal prosecution of individuals complying with state MC laws.
Recreational weed is legal in 21 states, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and D.C. The commercial distribution of cannabis has been legally allowed in all territories where possession has been legalized, except for D.C. Personal cultivation for recreational use is allowed in these jurisdictions except for Washington State and New Jersey.
How Does Cannabis Affect the Brain?
Cannabis can directly affect brain function — specifically those parts responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, emotions, and reaction time. Cannabis affects developing brains, such as those in babies, children, and teenagers. Although scientists are still learning about the effects of weed on developing brains, they suggest that cannabis use during pregnancy could be linked to issues with attention, memory, problem-solving skills, and behavior in their children.
Using marijuana before age 18 may affect how the brain builds connections for functions like attention, memory, and learning. Marijuana’s effects on attention, memory, and learning may last a long time or even be permanent, but more evidence-based research is necessary to understand these effects fully.
The impact of marijuana on the brain depends on many factors, including:
- The concentration of THC;
- How often it is used;
- Age of first use;
- Whether other substances (like tobacco and alcohol) are used at the same time.
Long-term impacts on the brain may also be caused by genetics, the home environment, or other unknown factors.
Research on Cannabis and Alzheimer’s Disease
A study of 2019 used the NPI assessment tool to measure dementia-related behavioral problems, namely delusions, hallucinations, agitation/aggression, depression, anxiety, euphoria, apathy, disinhibition, irritability, aberrant motor activity, night-time behaviors, and appetite and eating disorders. Each item is rated on a 7-point scale of frequency (i.e., from 1 = never to 7 = several times an hour). With the top NPI score being 144, quite a few patients were assessed to reduce it to 31.6 points after 28 days of treatment with up to 7.5 mg/day of THC. Overall, limited evidence from the studies suggested that when considering medical marijuana, dementia neuropsychiatric symptoms can be effectively treated.
Another recent study of March 2022 studied people with dementia who were assigned cannabidiol (CBD) drops. The follow-up assessment showed improvement in the behavioral and psychological symptoms of 11 out of 17 medical marijuana dementia patients, as was evaluated by the NPI (a decrease from a mean of 65.54 to 19.73) in fifteen days after CBD initiation.
Overall, it is hard to conclude a lot with medical marijuana; dementia, though, seems to be positively affected by it.