Medical Marijuana and Alzheimer's Disease

EssayDrugs
Apr 27, 2010

Mayo Clinic defines Alzheimer’s disease as a progressive neurologic disorder that causes brain atrophy and death of brain cells. A person who has Alzheimer’s disease experiences memory impairment and is at risk of getting Dementia thereby affecting the person’s thinking capabilities and behaviors. Specifically, is a serious and irreversible brain disorder that destroys a person’s ability to remember and critically think, to the point of disrupting even the simplest and most natural tasks. This is because abnormal protein clumps and bundles of fibers are forming in the brain , medically termed ‘amyloid plaques’ and “neurofibrillary tangles”. These abnormalities affect and disturb the transmission of messages among neurons, leading to serious issues such as loss of body control (e.g., bowel functions), loss of memory, speech impediment, and unpredictability in behavior. As the disease progresses, neurons die resulting to a significant shrinking of the brain tissue, which is why those who have died of Alzheimer’s disease have a significantly smaller brain. This makes the victim not only dependent on their caretakers but dangerous as well in some cases (Mayo Clinic). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that in 2020, about 5.8 million Americans have the disease and that that number will triple by 2060. Alzheimer’s can occur in young people too, but this is rare. Those who are at the age of 60 and beyond are more at risk (CDC).

Due to the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is incurable and irreversible, many have resorted to non-traditional medications including the use of medical marijuana. A study published in the Journal of Pharmacopuncture posits that Cannabidiol combined with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) might help in treating and preventing Alzheimer’s Disease. Cannabis sativa or marijuana has multiple types of cannabinoids, and this includes Tetrahydrocannabinol or Delta-9 THC which was found to be somehow effective in reducing and removing the excess protein in the brain. Apparently, research studies show that the toxin from the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles binds with the Delta-9 THC – this means that it connects with the toxin in the patient’s brain, and removes it THC leaves the body naturally (Kim, et al., 2019). Note that Alzheimer’s disease can take its victim's life in three years, depending on the age of the patient as well as his or her previous lifestyle choices. Some cases can live up to ten years despite the disease, however, this is a degenerative problem which means that even though the patient lives longer, it does not mean that the symptoms are shown at a slower rate. Symptoms can blow up all at once, by then, the ability of the patient to be a functional person is severely compromised.

While the said study sounds promising, the Alzheimer Society in Canada reiterates that there is still no concrete evidence regarding the positive effects of cannabis on Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, they noted that it is still a proven fact that long-term use of marijuana can be harmful and can result in memory problems regardless if one has a degenerative neurologic disorder or not (Alzheimer Society). However, when it comes to the symptom of showcasing aggressive behavior, medical marijuana comes into the picture. Before the studies regarding the possible effects of marijuana on patients with Alzheimer’s, cannabinoids are well-known to be a “downer” or relaxant. This means that it can lower a person’s energy levels and prevent aggression or extreme anger in people who are suffering from the said disease. Another benefit that medical marijuana can bring to people with Alzheimer’s is it can reduce inflammation and somehow prevent protein accumulation. It is the Tetrahydrocannabinol that allows such effects. In fact, researchers are trying to create a synthetic form of the Delta 9 THC by modifying a yeast in order to produce the beneficial substance without having to deal with the addictive components of cannabis sativa. Scientifically, THC also allows the nerve cells to protect themselves from the toxin produced by the protein clumps (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Despite the continuous debates on whether or not marijuana is helpful, there are already a handful of countries that allow the consumption of marijuana for medical purposes. However, the legal issues of marijuana make this decriminalization a bit complicated. For instance, Amsterdam has fully accepted the usage and sale of cannabis since 1976. However, in other cases - such as that in Hague – marijuana was banned in April 2018 but come July, the Dutch government allowed 10 municipalities to grow cannabis anchoring it as a wide-range experiment (Agence France-Presse, 2021). These varying perspectives regarding the use of marijuana, specifically in the medical field, arguably hinder the researchers from arriving at a universal conclusion. The question remains then: is marijuana beneficial or not?

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References

Agence France-Presse (AFP). (15 December 2021). Going to pot: Legalized cannabis around the world. Inquirer.net: World. Retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1528141/going-to-pot-legalised-cannabis-around-the-world#ixzz7aKHDgFyf

Alzheimer Society. (n.d.). Cannabis and the treatment of dementia. Retrieved from https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/how-can-i-treat-dementia/cannabis-treatment-dementia

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (n.d.). Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging.  Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm#AlzheimersDisease?

Kim, S.H., Yang, W.Y., Kim, K.H., Kim, J.K., & Yook, T.H. (2019). A review on studies of marijuana for Alzheimer’s Disease – focusing on CBD, THC. Journal of Pharmacopuncture.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3831/KPI.2019.22.030

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s disease. Diseases and Conditions.  Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-2035044

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Cannabis (marijuana). DrugFacts.  Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/cannabis-marijuana

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