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Seniors Ask – Does Marijuana Help Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia?

Marijuana and Alzheimer's Disease

There are many experts stepping forward in the world of cannabis consultation and training today, which is great. But, just to make it clear, I (Barbara) am not an expert in much of anything. The old, supposedly derogatory, saying suits me well, “Jack of all trades; master of none.” That’s me; I am an avid reader and learner, a fierce cannabis advocate, and a registered nurse with over 50 years of experience in mental health, long term care, and hospice.

I am employed at a dispensary in California, where I try to personally meet all of our new clients, whether adult or medical users. As a nurse, there is a limit to what I may do or say without exceeding the boundaries of my license, and staying within them is important. I am also a patient with a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis. I have anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain and PTSD, and primarily use tinctures, edibles and topicals to treat my symptoms.

Since appearing in the Sacred Plant-Season 2, Episode 7, I have had hundreds of calls and visits from people who want to meet and talk cannabis. They are all ages and come with all sorts of questions,especially about marijuana and Alzheimer’s. They all share one of the primary: the fear of having, or getting, Alzheimer’s or dementia. For them, delaying the possible onset or stopping the progress is of utmost importance.

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Treatments for Alzheimer’s

According to alzheimers.net, nearly 44 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia as of 2017. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, with one in ten Americans over 65 suffering from Alzheimer’s. This treatment costs are incredibly, with spending above $259 billion annually in the United States.

The human costs are staggering. Men and women in their prime or golden years are unable to recognize loved ones, cannot drive, get lost in the store, are angry, combative, confused, scared, are suffering from insomnia, and face dramatic weight loss. The list is endless.

Can Medical Cannabis Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?

Medical marijuana has the potential to help. It may or may not be the miracle we are looking for, as prohibition has limited scientific exploration and study into this important plant medicine for nearly 100 years. But, it certainly offers hope and has many potential benefits. Marijuana may help alleviate or modify many of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease through its interaction with the Endocannabinoid System and its cannabinoid receptors. THC and CBD are cannabinoids that can potentially help reduce inflammation during flare-ups and offer a calming effect on patients who are suffering. Some research has shown it may also possibly stop the disease from taking hold to start, but more research is needed.

You can surely understand my interest in the links between marijuana and Alzheimer’s, but to get a full picture, I need to tell you a little about my genetics. My Grandmother Lil was born in Chicago and raised in California. Lil died of a dementia related illness when she was 83. After a long and painful battle with Lewy body dementia, Ernie died in his 60s.

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My father’s family were Kentucky tobacco farmers. Mammaw (Grandmother Nettie Combs Dixon) raised strong boys and a wonderful daughter. The oldest brother died of Alzheimer’s, and his daughter also died with early onset dementia.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, this is not a hereditary disease, but I am not convinced. And, it breaks my heart thinking that there was no cannabis for any of them, and they suffered for it.

Cannabis Promotes Brain Health

Researchers at the Salk Institute believe it might, as reported in their 2017 study of Alzheimer’s patients. CBD seems to help by reducing inflammation and by acting as a brain stimulant and a neuroprotectant against amyloid plaques. In my work as a cannabis nurse, I have seen both patients and family members, who report that after beginning a treatment regime with CBD, they experience a reduction in stress and anxiety. Anecdotally, the effects of cannabis also appear to help treat alzheimer’s progression of memory loss.

Cannabis and Dementia

In 2017, a joint Israeli-German clinical trial found that THC might offer a cure for dementia. According to the study, THC improves cognitive functioning and memory performance. This study was actually part of what put me on the path to learn more about cannabis. Author Fred Gardner’s “O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of Cannabis” featured this study, and I was intrigued. After all, the day reviewed the article, I had spent quite some time looking for my phone, only to realize it was in my hand the entire time.

As a consumer, please take time to do your own research. Clint Werner book, “Marijuana Gateway to Health,” is an excellent source of primary data. Right on the cover, it lets readers know they can learn “How cannabis protects us from cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease” within its covers. Its available on Amazon, so I advise that you each pick up a copy.

If you are concerned about dementia or Alzheimer’s yourself, the first thing to do is get an evaluation. Determine if any symptoms you might have are part of the normal aging process or dementia. For instance, forgetting the names of acquaintances or new people could be normal aging, while forgetting the names of family and close friends may be a sign of dementia. Check out https://www.alz.org for more information.

Cannabis is not a panacea. Each of us should also look at other ways to reduce the risks of dementia. Eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise, and stop smoking. Drink less alcohol use, work to improve your blood pressure, and, more than anything, enjoy yourself while you can. There is almost nothing better for good health than doing fun things to elevate your mood and improve your life.

Take the time to schedule a trip to a local dispensary, and talk to a knowledgeable budtender about whether using marijuana for Alzheimer’s may be beneficial. It is very important to start with a low dose and go slow as you increase your tolerance to this eons old plant medicine. Your budtender can help you understand the relationship between marijuana and Alzheimer’s Disease and which products may be able to help.