The Connection Between Alzheimer’s and Cannabis

By: HarborView Senior Assisted Living

Thanks for joining us for our series on dementia and Alzheimer’s research! If you or a loved one was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), you are probably experiencing a wide range of emotions. This is very normal and coming to a place of acceptance with a memory related diagnosis is always a difficult journey. Further along in the journey you might find yourself wanting to look into studies and relevant research to better understand this family of diseases. Evidence-based care is a huge priority for us at Harbor View Senior Assisted Living (as well as at our sister sites, Mesa View Senior Assisted Living and Bay View Assisted Living) and we hope you will appreciate diving into the research with us!

Research on cannabis for medicinal use has exploded in the last few years. Cannabis is being tested for treating everything from cancer to Crohn’s disease. I, like many of you, have friends who suffer from both of these things and so my interest in the medicinal use of cannabis has grown in the last few years especially. I also use THC to help with the occasional bouts of insomnia. A friend asked me just the other day, “Is there any connection between cannabis and Alzheimer’s? I heard that there might be!” Maybe, like my friend, you have wondered the same thing. Let’s dive into the research exploring the connections between cannabis and Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

If you live in San Diego, you’ve no doubt seen all of the cannabis stores that have popped up in the last few years as marijuana has been legalized in California. Do you have a friend whose doctor recommended cannabis for relief from the side effects of chemo? Or perhaps you yourself have used cannabis medicinally at some point. Most of us are curious about the side effects of this substance that is becoming more and more commonly used, especially in California. While we know there are many positive uses for cannabis, it is obviously also something that can be abused. It’s important to be aware of any possible negative side effects while still taking advantage of all that cannabis has to offer medicinally.

In short, the scientific literature on marijuana and Alzheimer’s is not clear cut. More research is certainly needed for healthcare providers to be able to make clear recommendations and for dementia patients to make informed choices.

One large study utilizing SPECT (a controversial brain imaging technology) discovered that marijuana reduced blood flow to the brain. Researchers then inferred this could accelerate the aging process of the brain. Interestingly, neuroimaging technologies like SPECT are not recommended within practice guidelines by the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing any primary psychiatric disorder. This fact has led many researchers to question the validity of this large study.

The University of California, Irvine created a center for the study of cannabis. The center analyzed nine peer-reviewed studies focused on the effects of cannabinoids on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. All of these studies were published by August 2019, so this research is definitely up to date. The review of the nine studies discovered that the CBD components of cannabis might be useful to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, some findings implied that using both THC and CBD could be more useful than using CBD or THC alone.

We are committed to evidence-based care at Harbor View Senior Assisted Living (as well as at our sister sites, Mesa View Senior Assisted Living and Bay View Assisted Living) and being familiar with relevant research is an important part of the care we provide. 

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