Can CBD help relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease? Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia , there are approximately over 30 million recorded cases worldwide. Due to extended life expectancy this figure is expected to quadruple by 2050. With such a rise in numbers research in Alzheimer’s are beginning to look at alternative approaches , so how can cannabis help ?
Alzheimer’s disease begins by attacking the brains hippocampus which is responsible for memory function. The hippocampus begins to display impaired memory and cognition (the initial stages of the disease) People experiencing Alzheimer’s may display anxiety, agitation and depression and as the disease develops additional brain function slowly becomes impaired .
Eventually patients suffer further impairment leaving them with difficulty swallowing , breathing and coughing. Leaving patients susceptible to infections .
Clinical testing reveals there are three main characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain, these are :
- The build up of amyloid – ß (Aß) plaques
- Tangles of fibres inside brain cells called neurofibrillary tangles
- The activation of support cells in the brain called Microglia
Additionally, abnormally high levels of free radicals have also been observed as a common feature of Alzheimer’s disease. The increase of Aß plaques and neurofibrillary tangles causes the brain to become inflamed which increases the free radicals leading to the progression of the disease . These processes cause the brain to release glutamate from Microglia , this raises the glutamate to toxic levels killing neurons which are the signalling brain cells. They also reduce levels of acetylcholine which is responsible for memory and cognitive function.
Can CBD help relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Current treatments are able to mask symptoms , such as increasing acetylcholine levels to level impairment in cognitive function, but they do nothing to reverse the progression of the disease. Through the study of the origin and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, some treatment approaches could be to reduce Aß plaque and tangles, soak up the excess free radicals produced and reduce the inflammation and prevention of microglia activity , limiting the toxic release of neuron attacking glutamate.
Scientists have researched and studied these aspects for decades, and obviously their attempts to cure Alzheimer’s disease has been unsuccessful to date. However recently some attention has been given to cannabinoids and these studies hold some promise for patients.
Scientists have looked at eradicating Aß plaque as a preventative cure , however the proteins that form the plaque contribute to brain cell function , therefore eradication of plaque would have a detrimental effect. Ann alternative approach would be to limit the harmful consequences of having plaques. Neutralising the damaging free radicals and reducing inflammation processes. Fortunately both cannabinoids THC and CBD are good at both !
THC and CBD are potent antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. These are important qualities as brain inflammation is a major contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. Anti-inflammatory drugs , like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS; e.g. ibuprofen) reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease , however chronic use of these drugs can damage the kidneys and cause other problems. CBD and limited amounts of other cannabinoids have been used with minimal side effects and are largely considered safe for adult use.
Many studies of Alzheimer’s disease have revealed that the use of CBD reduces the ability of Aß plaques to induce inflammation , thereby limiting their toxic effect on the brain cells. Importantly it has been observed that CBD can in fact reduce the plaques themselves by activating one of its many targets , the PPAR-y receptor, which is able to improve brain cell survival. The PPAR-y receptors are an important target for CBD’s treatment benefits in Alzheimer’s disease.
A phase 2 clinical trial discovered that an activator of PARR-y successfully improved cognitive function and memory in Alzheimer’s disease. This is in contrast to CBD and THC’s effects on CB2 receptors , which prevent Aβ plaques build up, but don’t appear to improve cognitive function or prevent neurofibrillary tangles . CBD may also protect against neurofibrillary tangles in cases where Aβ plaques underlie their pathology.
The benefits of \CBD on memory and cognitive function result largely from it’s ability to protect the hippocampus from disease and toxins. CBD appears to protect these brain cells by reducing the activation of microglia.
Microglia makes up almost 10% of the brains cells , they are very similar to neurons and become active following injury or disease. Although the purpose of microglia is to protect other brain cells, chronic activation leads to a negative effect. Activated microglia releases glutamate , cytokines and other harmful substances which over time kill neurons. Unsurprisingly activated microglia are a prevalent feature of the Alzheimer disease brain that contributes to the progression of the disease. Some of the available therapies aim to block the release of harmful chemicals from microglia causing serious side effects which preclude their clinical use. However cannabis provides a well tolerated therapy to reduce the activation of microglia.
Combination therapies including THC and CBD have been observed to effectively reduce microglia activation and improve Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in mice . These treatments are at their most effective when given at the earliest opportunity.
Cannabis has an exciting potential through pre-clinical studies and scientists are still a long way from using these therapies to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease in humans . This is primarily due to the fact that successful treatment in mice has not translated well across to humans or have had severe side effects . Also somewhat limiting , humans take considerably longer to age than mice . Data can be collected regarding the effectiveness of cannabis in mice with Alzheimer’s within a year, however humans would require decades.
Nonetheless , cannabis has shown to be effective in treating some of the challenging symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease . A small trial of 10 patients with Alzheimer’s were given a four week treatment of cannabis oil which did reduce some of the cognitive symptoms displayed by the patients. Cannabis has also been proven to generally improve patients quality of life , improving appetite, reducing anxiety and improving sleep .
With access to CBD and Cannabis becoming more available a preventative treatment strategy may be worth considering if Alzheimer’s disease runs in your family , it may be worth discussing with your GP.
Did you know our essential rock rose and cbd supplement is high in antioxidants ? Rock rose is an effective way of removing free radicals .