July 20, 2022

Can CBD Help With Alzheimer's & Dementia?

Alzheimer's and dementia are two of the most feared diseases of our time. According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death for adults over 65.(1)

With no known cure and challenges in managing symptoms, patients and families are desperate for anything that might help. So it's not surprising that CBD has found itself among the long list of potential treatments being explored for Alzheimer's and dementia.

Can CBD do anything for people with dementia? Here’s what we know so far... 

Dementia Defined

Dementia is the umbrella term for a set of symptoms dealing with a decline in cognitive function. This can include memory loss, difficulties with engaging in daily tasks, and changes in communication.

It primarily impacts older adults, though it isn’t a normal part of aging.

Dementia is quite common, with an estimated 5 million adults in the United States living with the condition.(2)

Dementia Symptoms

The symptoms of dementia generally cluster around cognitive and communication problems and challenges. And, symptoms usually worsen over time.

Common symptoms include issues with:(2)

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Communication
  • Judgment 

While it’s normal to have age-related memory changes, dementia patients tend to have more serious memory loss issues. For instance, they may forget how to get home or the name of a close family member.

Dementia Risk Factors

It's thought that dementia is caused by damage or loss of the brain’s nerve cells. Exactly why this happens isn't clear, but the following things increase your chances of getting dementia:(2)

  • Age
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Family history of dementia
  • Race/ethnicity (African Americans are 2x more likely to develop dementia than white Americans.)

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, with about 60-80% of dementia cases attributed to Alzheimer's.(2) Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, meaning that it gets worse over time. 

The buildup of beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain are thought to contribute to the development of Alzheimer's. Chronic inflammation in the brain is also suspected of advancing the disease.(3

Dementia Treatment

There’s unfortunately no cure for dementia, but different treatments exist to help ease symptoms, manage the disease, and improve quality of life. There’s a huge need for research into this area of neurodegenerative diseases so new, effective treatments can be discovered.

Dementia Prevention

Prevention is not guaranteed — but living a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk. Some of the things that can lower your risk of developing dementia include:(4)

  • Keeping the brain engaged through puzzles, word games, and reading
  • Regular exercise
  • Getting enough vitamins, especially vitamin D
  • Keeping a healthy diet
  • Managing any cardiovascular issues
  • Getting enough sleep

The Endocannabinoid System & Dementia

Neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington's disease, Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia, and Alzheimer’s are associated with the endocannabinoid system.(5) And studies on Alzheimer’s patients are finding changes in the way the endocannabinoid system (ECS) functions.(6)

The body can produce its own cannabinoids. These endocannabinoids help the body regulate many different functions. At the same time, phytocannabinoids like CBD can also interact with the body’s ECS. And cannabinoids like CBD have shown that they may have neuroprotective properties.(7)

This may be why scientists are investigating whether CBD could help to treat Alzheimer's and dementia.

Lab Research On Alzheimer’s

One 2016 study found that cannabis compounds, particularly THC, facilitated the removal of beta-amyloid — the protein that forms plaques in Alzheimer's patients' brains.(8)

Studies like these suggest that cannabinoids may have neuroprotective properties that might reduce inflammation and beta-amyloid accumulation.

This particular study was done in lab-grown neuron cells, so naturally, more research is needed to know how the results would translate into human patients.

Cannabis & Alzheimer's

Other studies have looked at how cannabinoids can affect Alzheimer’s patients’ quality of life. One study on patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease found that nabilone (synthetic medical form of THC) helped significantly reduce agitation and improved overall behavioral symptoms.(9)

Others have looked into cannabis as a whole, with some experts suggesting that CBD with THC may be more beneficial than just using CBD or THC alone.(10)

CBD For Alzheimer's & Dementia

In 2020, a randomized clinical trial began to investigate CBD's effectiveness in reducing agitation in patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.(11) Study participants are either given a CBD oil (containing no THC) or a placebo.

The hemp-derived CBD capsules are being given for 6 weeks. The dose is set to 15mg twice a day, and will go up to 45mg twice a day. 

The study aims to measure seven outcomes:

  • Changes in agitation and aggression
  • Change in caregiver burden
  • Change in patient's quality of life
  • Change in caregiver’s quality of life
  • Changes in cognitive skills
  • Impact to sleep
  • Changes to neuropsychiatric symptoms

If the study shows promising results, it could pave the way for more research on CBD as a treatment for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

The study is estimated to be completed in February 2023. Stay tuned!

Tips In Incorporating CBD Into Your Wellness Plan

CBD doesn’t yet have an approved use in the treatment of dementia. But some research shows that it might help ease the aggression that comes with Alzheimer's disease. It may also offer some other benefits like easing stress and chronic pain.

If you want to access the potential plant benefits of this cannabinoid, follow these guidelines:

  • Consult with your medical team first. CBD may interact with various medications so be sure to get the OK from the doc.
  • Find a quality CBD retailer. Look for organic hemp-derived products, with high bioavailability for the best absorption.
  • Find your best form of CBD. This could be isolate CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, or full-spectrum CBD. Read our guide Different Types of CBD: Full-Spectrum, Broad-Spectrum & Isolate to learn more.
  • Choose a CBD product that works with your wellness routine. CBD oil, CBD softgels, and CBD gummies are all viable options. For more guidance, check out Which CBD Product is Right For You: CBD Tinctures, Gummies, Topicals & Softgels.

CBD & Dementia: The Bottom Line

There's no evidence yet that CBD can prevent or reverse Alzheimer's and other dementias. But it might help alleviate some of the unpleasant symptoms that accompany it. 

Most research on CBD and dementia has found that CBD and cannabis may reduce irritability and aggression among dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Research has also found neuroprotective qualities in cannabidiol, so this bodes well for future investigations into the compound. 

For anyone considering CBD, know that it's no replacement for traditional medications — but it could be a complementary wellness tool to help you boost overall well-being.

Sources

  1. (2021). Alzheimer’s Disease. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/dotw/alzheimers/index.html
  2. (2019). What Is Dementia? CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html
  3. (2017). What Happens to the Brain in Alzheimer's Disease? National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-happens-brain-alzheimers-disease
  4. (2021). Dementia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dementia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352013
  5. Walther, S, et al. (2010). Cannabinoids and Dementia: A Review of Clinical and Preclinical Data. Pharmaceuticals. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph3082689
  6. Berry, AJ, et al. (2020). Endocannabinoid system alterations in Alzheimer's disease: A systematic review of human studies. Brain research. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2020.147135
  7. Mueller, A, et al. (2020). Use of Cannabis for Agitation in Patients With Dementia. The Senior care pharmacist. https://doi.org/10.4140/TCP.n.2020.312
  8. Currais, A, et al. (2016). Amyloid proteotoxicity initiates an inflammatory response blocked by cannabinoids. npj Aging. https://doi.org/10.1038/npjamd.2016.12
  9. Lanctot, K. (2018). Clearing the air about cannabis and dementia. Alzheimer Society. https://alzheimer.ca/en/whats-happening/news/clearing-air-about-cannabis-dementia
  10. Kim, SH, et al. (2019). A Review on Studies of Marijuana for Alzheimer's Disease - Focusing on CBD, THC. Journal of pharmacopuncture. https://doi.org/10.3831/KPI.2019.22.030
  11. Okhravi, H. (2022). Effects of THC-Free CBD Oil on Agitation in Patients With Alzheimer's Disease. ClinicalTrials.gov https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04436081


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