Dementia is a term used to describe symptoms that impact memory, ability to perform daily tasks, and communication. Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease affecting the brain and is known as the most common type of dementia. When a brain is affected with Alzheimer’s, beta amyloid proteins build up in the brain and form plaques and tangles, affecting the connections between the nerve cells. The blockage causes nerve cells to die off, which leads to brain tissue loss.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means that the disease will inflict damage to more brain tissue over time. This causes more symptoms to develop and become more severe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. By the year 2050, the CDC projects that this number will rise to 14 million people.
Currently, pharmaceutical drugs cannot cure or stop Alzheimer’s disease. However, medication is prescribed to patients in order to lessen the symptoms for a limited time. These drugs work by affecting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages among the nerve cells in the brain. The FDA has approved two types of medication for Alzheimer’s which are cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are used to treat the symptoms of early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease. This group of drugs treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, judgment, and other thought processes. Commonly prescribed cholinesterase inhibitors are donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine.
Meanwhile, memantine is prescribed to patients who are at the moderate to severe stages of the disease. This group of drugs improves memory, attention, reason, language, and ability to perform simple tasks.
While these pharmaceuticals are proven to be effective, depending on the person, the intensity of the side effects will vary. Side effects of taking Alzheimer’s medication include nausea, loss of appetite, increase frequency of bowel movement, headache, constipation, and dizziness.
Alzheimer’s and Medical Marijuana
There are currently no large scale studies on the effect of medical marijuana on the treatment of Alzheimer’s. However, small scale studies do show some promising results for management and treatment of the disease.
According to a preclinical study found in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, small doses of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the compound found in medical marijuana, can slow down the process of beta amyloid production. Meanwhile, another study from the Salk Institute found that THC and other compounds from marijuana might reduce the amount of beta amyloid in the brain.
There are no specific strains that are recommended for the management of Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, many sources recommend that patients can select strains and/or combine them depending on the target effect they desire.