Cannabis as a medicinal treatment has a history spanning centuries back to ancient Chinese texts dated approximately five thousand years ago. Yet it’s medical potential hit a brick wall back in 1937 when the first legislation against cannabis spawned, providing an uphill battle for the miracle plant since. Unfortunately, due to the failed (and continuously failing) War on Drugs research on medicinal cannabis cannot receive federal funding in the absence of stringent vetting. Despite this fact, more and more studies are trickling through the fire-wall giving us insight into the science of pot’s medicinal benefits. A recent review article from the Current Neurological Neuroscience Report sifted through these studies to determine whether or not marijuana could, or should, be used as a treatment for dementia.
Now I don’t know about all of you, but I wanted to know a little bit more about what dementia was. I thought it was just some symptom of other neurodegenerative diseases that lead to memory loss. So, let’s discuss for a second what the characteristics of dementia are so that we can parse together how cannabis affects it, regardless of efficacy.
Dementia, as it so happens, is not a single disease, but a class of symptoms that when strung together provide behaviors that we describe as dementia, the most common of which is memory loss.
It is often associated with other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The majority of patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s display symptoms of aggression, delusions, hallucinations, apathy, pain, anxiety and depression. These not only negatively affect the patient but also the people around them.
Due to the wide-spanning nature of dementia, there is not a single biological reason, and thus any treatment done does not have a specific target, necessitating a broadly effective drug.
Often the medications prescribed for dementia are the same as those prescribed for diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, however, there is either: little evidence of effectiveness or little improvement in health.
There are no known cures for dementia so the treatments provided are merely meant to alleviate the pain, and disturbances caused by the disease. The authors of the paper took their time and did a thorough examination of past studies. To their dismay, the few clinical studies done have shown that cannabis showed little to no improvement in the patients tested. However, they noted that in a number of case studies, patients and families swore that medical cannabis was the only thing that alleviated their symptoms and allowed them to enjoy their lives.
Even after finding that cannabis was just as effective as current medication, the authors stand by the notion that cannabis is a better treatment for pain and behavioral symptoms.
More often than not, these patients are given antipsychotics as a treatment, and the costs certainly outweigh the benefits.
“Their use may be associated with increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular events and aspiration caused by excessive sedation,” the study authors wrote.
The authors argue that, in the absence of a viable treatment for dementia, cannabis (cannabinoids more broadly) should receive more attention as a treatment, due to fewer long-term side-effects such as sedation. Hopefully, we will see increasing medical benefits of our favorite plant in the coming years.