Many of us look forward to retiring one day and enjoying the time we have left before we leave this mortal coil. While growing older is seen by many as a process of gaining wisdom and a time to finally relax after a long life of hard work, this is sadly not always the case. With age comes wisdom, but also the risk of disease and illness that is prevalent in the elderly, such as dementia.
With people living longer than ever before, the number of people with dementia is on the rise. It is estimated that over 1 million people in the UK will have dementia by 2025. With no cure or solution to the disease, many sufferers turn to cannabis to help with their illness. However, is cannabis and dementia a good mix and is there any truth to the claims surrounding it?
What is dementia?
First, we need to look at what dementia is. According to the CDC: “Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with doing everyday activities.”
In short, dementia is an umbrella term for a syndrome associated with a decline in brain function, usually affecting people over the age of 65. Dementia causes them to suffer memory loss, have trouble speaking and struggle to control their behaviour and emotions, among other things.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly. However, it is not the only cause. There is also vascular dementia, mixed dementia, and rarer causes such as Huntington’s disease.
Symptoms of dementia
There are various symptoms associated with dementia, such as:
- Memory loss
- Changes in personality
- Difficulty communicating or speaking
- Loss of motor skills
- Difficulty solving problems
- Unable to handle complex tasks
- Loss of spatial/visual abilities
- Difficulty reasoning
- Trouble understanding
- Loss of interest in activities
Sadly, the symptoms of dementia usually worsen with time and can lead to the person not being able to look after themselves or communicate in the last stages of dementia.
Numerous things can cause dementia, such as:
- Family history
- High cholesterol
- Down syndrome
While many of these causes, such as age and family history, cannot be prevented, some can, such as obesity and smoking.
While there are many causes of dementia, some of which are unavoidable, there are preventions you can take to stand less of a chance of getting Dementia, such as:
- Keeping your mind active
- Taking vitamins
- Treating health conditions
- Eating healthy
- Avoiding alcohol
- Avoiding smoking
- Getting good sleep
- Staying active
While there is still a chance that you may get dementia even after taking all these precautions, your chances will be much slimmer than if you continued living an unhealthy, sluggish lifestyle.
Another option some people choose to help with dementia is cannabis. And while not much is known for sure about the effects it may have on dementia, research is ongoing and has shown interesting results.
What research says about cannabis and dementia
Some studies on the effectiveness of cannabis in helping dementia have shown promise, along with numerous anecdotal claims that it has helped people living with dementia deal with their symptoms. A 2016 study done by the Salk Institute on lab-grown neurons found evidence that CBD can help remove dementia from brain cells and increase their connectivity. The results from this study are especially important as they were confirmed by other laboratories.
While CBD is not seen as a cure for dementia, it does have the potential to help with symptoms associated with the disease. Studies show that CBD has the potential to help improve the lives of dementia patients in the following ways:
- Help reduce inflammation thanks to anti-inflammatory properties
- Act as a brain stimulant
- Reduce oxygen build-up
- Act as a neuroprotectant
- Help eliminate dead brain cells
- Reduce anxiety
- Help maintain brain function
- Prevent memory loss
Studies on the effects of marijuana on dementia are especially promising when used for treating memory loss and behavioural problems associated with the disease, such as aggression.
A study done on mice at the University of Bonn made headlines when it was revealed that the mice in the study responded favourably to marijuana and benefited from the compound. The study consisted of a number of mice around 18-months-old (equivalent to 70-year-old humans) who continued behaving like young, healthy mice even though mice tend to show a mental decline after they turn about 1-years-old. These findings suggest that marijuana may be the key to staying mentally sharp and could have the potential to help dementia patients.
What the public says about cannabis and dementia
With no cure for dementia, it is understandable that people are turning to other options besides medicine to help relieve symptoms. As can be seen from this article, cannabis has become a new favourite for its beneficial compounds, which have the potential to help ease the symptoms of those suffering from it. While scientific evidence is lacking, an increasing number of people claim marijuana has made a positive difference in a dementia sufferer's life, especially behaviour-wise, helping soothe agitation and having a calming effect on patients. However, these claims still need to be backed by science.
The risks of using cannabis
While cannabis is seen as relatively safe, there have been warnings from the FDA, among others, that there are potential health risks. These risks include liver injury, as seen in some animal studies that administered extremely high doses of cannabis. Furthermore, there is also evidence that it can affect the metabolism of other medications. Effects also differ from individual to individual. This is why it is best to talk to your doctor before using cannabis or CBD to see if it is the correct option.
Conclusion on cannabis and dementia
The research surrounding marijuana and dementia examines the effects of the active components naturally found in the plant, such as CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), on these behavioural problems. However, we are unable to draw conclusions from the available evidence as too few studies have been conducted, usually only on animals. More studies on humans are needed. Furthermore, not all studies use the same strain of cannabis, making it even trickier to come up with a conclusive answer.
As research continues, we will form a better understanding of the effects cannabis has on dementia. Hopefully, a clearer picture will emerge. We are yet to see whether it is especially helpful for dementia patients or not.
Cannabis and dementia – key takeaways
There is currently no concrete evidence that cannabis can help prevent, treat or cure dementia. On the other hand, a few studies suggest that cannabis can help manage specific symptoms associated with dementia. Some anecdotal claims also support this. However, much more research is needed before these claims can be confirmed. Currently, it is purely anecdotal, with little scientific evidence to back it. It is unknown what the long-term effects could be for people with dementia who use cannabis, and whether it is safe for them to do so.
To be on the safe side, speak to your doctor before considering cannabis as a treatment option. Like any other health supplement, it is best to consult a medical professional before commencing use. Find out if it is safe to use cannabis or CBD, especially if there are underlying health concerns. It may impact the effectiveness of any medication you are currently on or be a safety concern if you are ill. Hopefully, we will soon know for sure whether cannabis is a solution for dementia.
You may also like to read: CBD Oil for Depression – What are the Benefits?