Research suggests cannabinoids can be used to treat dementia by removing damaging proteins from the brain. Further research is needed to confirm the early findings of studies showing the potential of cannabis to treat dementia.
The Independent reported on the research process so far. Professor David Schubert led a study published last year which raised hopes that compounds found in cannabis could be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. He says legal issues deter research into the medicinal properties of cannabis. Cannabinoids show a great deal of promise, but it’s difficult to get approval for studies owing to their legal status.
Cannabis must be studied urgently
Schubert says it is highly evident that the plant should be studied in detail. But it is not easy to obtain funding. In fact, it is almost impossible.
The biomedical research conducted at the renowned Salk Institute, a facility in California, found THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, can help remove dangerous proteins that cause dementia from brain cells.
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Awaiting approval to study cannabis to treat dementia
Professor Schubert and his team applied for permission from the FDA to conduct further studies on mice using cannabis extracts, but has had no reply since submitting his application in December.
Small amounts of synthetic cannabinoids were used in the previous study. Researchers found that these cannabinoids stimulated the removal of the toxic plaque formed in the brain associated with dementia. The plaque, which destroys nerve cells comes from a buildup of a protein called amyloid beta.
Alzheimer’s disease prevalent
Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia. According to the World Health Organization it affects 47.5 million people worldwide. It causes more deaths in Wales and England than any other illness, even heart disease. Memory is affected as well as thinking and behavior, leaving patients unable to perform ordinary daily tasks.
Ongoing research into amyloid beta’s role in the disease has made scientists believe the protein starts building up in the brain before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease become apparent. Could regular doses of cannabinoids prevent or halt Alzheimer’s? That’s what researchers want to know.
THC reduces amyloid beta build-up
Professor Schubert’s team proved that THC effectively reduced the protein in nerve cells, helping the cells to survive. The US Alzheimer’s Association also confirmed the legitimacy of research into marijuana as a viable treatment option. However, some experts remain skeptical and want to see more in-depth research.
One such a skeptic is assistant professor of psychiatry, University of Michigan, Donovan Maust. He says it is not easy to determine what the effect on humans would be even if THC promotes the clearing of an amyloid beta plaque.
Cannabis doesn’t kill brain cells but protects them
Most of us were indoctrinated to believe that cannabis kills brain cells, could the opposite be true? There seems to be a growing body of evidence pointing to the conclusion that cannabis protects the brain from deterioration and from injury.
However, we will have to keep our excitement at bay for years to come. Real evidence will only come from scientific studies, and just getting approval for further trials isn’t easy. Then there’s the question of where funding will come from. Researchers have their work cut out, and all we know so far is that cannabis to treat dementia shows promise.