Marijuana and Dementia – The Benefits and Pitfalls of Modern-Day Alternative Medicine

by | Jul 21, 2021 | Conditions, Health & Relief, Medical-studies

Updated on November 26, 2021. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Shatha Atiya.

Among the many downsides that come with old age, memory loss is one of the most saddening. Especially when it is the result of dementia, and traditional medicine is powerless to help. Thankfully, science still has a few tricks up its sleeve. In the realm of alternative medicine, marijuana is a pioneering treatment for dementia – with varying results.

In this article, we’ll be analyzing the neuroscience behind the most common manifestations of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. At the same time, we’ll be exploring marijuana’s impact on the endocannabinoid system. More specifically, why its chemical composition can help in the treatment of dementia.

Read on to gain a better understanding of the medical connection between the two. 

What Links Dementia and Alzheimer’s 

As one of its most widespread forms, dementia is often linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and for good reason. Alzheimer’s encompasses almost 65% of all dementia-related diseases. And the numbers reflect that – Alzheimer’s affects more than 6 million Americans as of 2021. 

Usually, Alzheimer-resulted dementia manifests through the following symptoms:

  • Inability to form coherent thoughts
  • Difficulties in carrying out mundane tasks 
  • Erratic changes in behavior, such as constant mood swings
  • Memory loss in long term-patients

The Neuroscience Behind Marijuana and Dementia

So far, marijuana has proven to help in preventing or reversing dementia-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s. But, several studies have shown that its activity on our brains’ endocannabinoid receptors can have positive effects in reducing some of its symptoms. 

For starters, a 2019 study done by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health has shown just that. Medical marijuana works directly on combatting the neuropsychiatric symptoms often found in Alzheimer’s and dementia, such as agitation, irritability, and nocturnal behavior. Moreover, researchers also found improvements in the cognitive scores of the tested patients. They did so by applying a mental state exam, albeit limited in scope and quantitative evidence. 

Another study from the same year by a team of Korean researchers focused on the chemical aspect, analyzing the combined properties of the CBD and THC cannabinoids found in marijuana when applied as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. 

The results showed that, by regulating the two chemical compounds, marijuana helped in reducing the death of brain cells. More than that, it stimulated the process of neurogenesis in the hippocampus, while improving the patient’s memory capacity.

Finally, vascular dementia, a neurodegenerative disorder that often accompanies Alzheimer’s, has also been shown to benefit from marijuana treatment. Characterized through the absence of appropriate blood flow to the brain, vascular dementia usually manifests through abundant cell death. Through its activation of the CB2 cannabinoid receptors, marijuana can help recover the lacking blood flow, and minimize the number of dead brain cells. 

Medical Marijuana and Alzheimer’s – What are the Risks?

While the benefits of marijuana make it a considerable treatment option for dementia, the risks it carries also need to be taken into account. Given the limited amount of research that is available, the effect of cannabinoids may differ drastically from a healthy brain to one suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. 

A report published by the Canadian Alzheimer Society highlights some of the pitfalls of marijuana treatment for dementia, including:

  • The calming aspect of cannabinoid treatment on the general population may have the opposite effect on people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Given their erratic behavioral state, it might agitate them further, and aggravate their cognitive instability.
  • While useful for the short-term treatment of vascular dementia, long-term use of marijuana may actually reduce blood flow to the brain. As this directly affects our hippocampus, it can expose certain people to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. 
  • Also related to the blood-flow aspect, chronic use of marijuana may inhibit our capacity for storing long-term memory. And this is because the hippocampus is the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and retention.

How Much CBD Should I Take for Alzheimer’s?

When analyzing the specifics of marijuana use for dementia, it is important to keep in mind that there is no “one-size-fits-all” CBD or THC intake for the treatment of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

A 2017 study highlights the “proof of principle” aspect of the therapeutic benefits of CBD and THC. The results showed that CBD can cancel out the psychoactive effects that THC brings. Potentially, this creates a much more efficient therapeutic effect than if CBD were to be used on its own. 

In essence, this means that both cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) serves a role in the reduction of brain cell death and the neurogenesis effect. So, the right dosage of either cannabinoid can only be determined by consulting with a marijuana doctor. 

Owing to their expertise, they can analyze your medical records and give you an appropriate treatment option based on your diagnosis. Depending on your state, you can find a medical marijuana doctor in your area that would be more than happy to provide you with the guidance that you need.