- General Health
CBD Oil for Alzheimer’s – Could It Help?
When you have a condition with no known cure, patients and their loved ones will try almost anything to help combat it. This is perhaps why CBD for Alzheimer’s is gaining such a following. No one seriously suggests that CBD oil could ‘cure’ Alzheimer’s. However, proponents suggest that the non-intoxicating compound in cannabis and hemp could help manage symptoms.
While Alzheimer’s is associated with aging, an estimated 200,000 Americans younger than 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s. That said, the majority of the 5.8 million US residents with the condition are aged 65+. As a higher percentage of us live longer than ever before, the prevalence of the disease seems sure to rise. Here are a few pertinent statistics regarding the condition, taken from the Alzheimer’s Association website:
- Deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by 145% between 2000 and 2017.
- Approximately one-third of seniors die from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
- The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is projected to reach 14 million by 2050.
- All forms of dementia cost the nation around $290 billion per annum. This cost will exceed $1 trillion by 2050.
- Someone in America develops the disease every 65 seconds.
- 10% of people aged 65+ have Alzheimer’s dementia.
- The average lifetime cost of caring for someone living with dementia is $350,000.
Aside from the expense involved, watching someone you love degrade mentally is a heavy burden. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that alternatives such as CBD oil for Alzheimer’s are becoming popular.
In this article, we look at the science behind how CBD could help Alzheimer’s. First, let’s take a closer look at the condition.
What Is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disorder that results in brain cells wasting away and dying. And it is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease results in a continuous decline in social, behavioral, and thinking skills. Patients with the condition get to the point where they can no longer function independently. At present, there is no cure, although research continues apace. Patients are now beginning to consider options such as CBD for Alzheimer’s.
The condition is named after a doctor called Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, he noticed changes in the brain tissue of a female patient who died from an unusual mental illness. Symptoms included odd behavior, problems with language, and memory loss. He examined the patient’s brain after her death and found amyloid plaques and tangled bundles of fibers. Today, these are among the first signs that someone has the condition. For the record, early-onset Alzheimer’s occurs in 5% of patients.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
Researchers believe that the condition arises due to a combination of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors. The latter instance occurs in less than 1% of cases. In these rare instances, there are specific genetic changes than guarantee the development of the disease. Unfortunately, individuals in this bracket typically develop the condition earlier than most.
Scientists don’t know the precise causes of Alzheimer’s at present. However, the most likely explanation involves the failure of brain proteins to function correctly. The result is a disruption in the work of brain cells, which causes several toxic events. Over time, neurons become damaged, lose connections to one another, and die.
Much of the damage begins in the area of the brain in charge of memory. However, the process can begin up to a decade before the initial symptoms appear. Towards the latter stages of the condition, the brain is considerably smaller than before due to shrinkage. When analyzing the condition, we have to look at a pair of proteins called Beta-Amyloid Plaques and Tangles
- Beta-Amyloid Plaques: These are leftover pieces of a more prominent protein. Researchers have found that when these parts cluster, they have a toxic effect on neurons. They also disrupt cell-to-cell communication. Eventually, the fragments create amyloid plaques.
- Tangles: These are twisted parts of a protein called tau, and build up in cells. In patients with Alzheimer’s, tau proteins become neurofibrillary tangles. Then, the tangles become toxic to cells by disrupting the transport system.
Most people develop plaques and tangles as they age. In Alzheimer’s patients, it is a predictable pattern, beginning in the areas responsible for memory and spreading. Ultimately, the death of nerve cells causes memory failure and other symptoms associated with the condition.
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s
There are several potential risk factors, including:
- Age: The older you get, the more likely it is that you develop Alzheimer’s.
- Family History and Genetics: Your risk of developing the condition increases if a parent or sibling has it. To date, researchers have identified mutations in three genes that effectively guarantee the development of the disease.
- Down’s Syndrome: An individual with this condition is more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than the rest of the population. Signs and symptoms develop up to 20 years earlier.
- Sex: Almost twice as many women have the condition than men. However, this is only because females live longer than males on average.
- Past Head Trauma: People who experience severe head trauma are at higher risk.
- Poor Sleep Patterns: Individuals who have issues sleeping or remaining asleep are also at higher risk.
- Lifestyle: This includes high blood pressure, minimal exercise, obesity, and high cholesterol. Any of these issues make you more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
- Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): This is a decline in thinking skills or memory faster than what is normal for an individual’s age. A person with MCI is at significant risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Diagnosis of the condition may include:
- Asking friends and family members of a patient about overall health, use of OTC and prescription drugs, and past medical issues.
- Conducting problem-solving, language, and memory tests.
- Performing CT, PET, or MRI scans.
- Blood and urine tests.
Signs & Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
The best-known symptom of the condition is memory loss. One of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering recent conversations or events. As the disease progresses, patients may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Repeating questions and statements over and over again.
- Forgetting events, conversations, and appointments and failing to remember them later.
- Getting lost in familiar locations.
- Misplacing possessions regularly, and putting them in unusual places.
- Having problems finding the correct words to express feelings or identify objects.
- Forgetting the names of everyday things and family members.
There are several other symptoms to consider, however:
- Personality & Behavioral Changes: Patients may experience depression, apathy, mood swings, a loss of inhibitions, or aggressiveness.
- Loss of Planning Skills: Routine activities such as cooking or playing games now become difficult. People living with Alzheimer’s find it hard to remember the steps required.
- Decreased Decision-Making Skills: A reduction or loss of ability to make fundamental decisions. For instance, a patient may wear clothes inappropriate for the weather or occasion.
- A lapse in Thinking & Reasoning Skills: An Alzheimer’s patient may find it hard to pay bills on time. Abstract concepts such as numbers and the idea of time because tough to grasp.
A person living with Alzheimer’s may retain specific skills such as telling stories, singing, or reading books. This may be because these skills are controlled by parts of the brain, not yet affected.
At present, there are two types of drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s. Cholinesterase Inhibitors preserve a chemical messenger depleted in the brain by the condition. The goal is to improve cell-to-cell communication. Improvement is described as ‘modest’ by medical experts. Memantine slows the progression of symptoms. Once again, it is only moderately useful. Side effects include confusion and dizziness.
A vital part of a treatment plan is adapting to a patient’s living situation. Creating a safe and supportive environment is essential. Examples include:
- Keeping valuables such as wallets, keys, and jewelry in the same place.
- Ensuring you keep medication in a safe and secure location.
- Keep track of daily doses via a daily checklist.
- Simplify financial affairs. Automatic deposit and payment options are a major help.
- Buy a mobile phone with tracking capability so your caregiver can find you if you get lost.
The aforementioned side effects and lack of efficacy cause patients to seek alternative medicine. There is a growing trend towards the use of CBD oil for Alzheimer’s.
CBD Oil for Alzheimer’s – How Could It Help?
Many researchers believe that brain inflammation promotes Alzheimer’s disease by increasing the number of tangles and plaques. The consequences include brain cell death, a high level of inflammation, and microglia activation. Old research found that people who used anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. However, follow-up clinical trials in Alzheimer’s patients found that anti-inflammatories did nothing to aid symptoms once you had the condition.
For CBD to prove useful in dealing with Alzheimer’s, it must help do the following:
- Prevent the development of tangles.
- Reduce plaques.
- Soak up free radicals.
- Block microglia activation and the release of toxic chemicals.
To date, researchers have found that CBD for Alzheimer’s may do all of the above. The issue is that most studies involve rodents. In the lab, scientists can alter the DNA of mice, so they develop the features of Alzheimer’s. In specific tests, CBD helped reduce symptoms when administered in the early stages of the disease. The results are consistent with the cannabinoid’s anti-inflammatory potential.
There are possibly CBD oil benefits for Alzheimer’s patients. The next step is to figure out the right CBD dosage for Alzheimer’s. There is no predetermined dose as of yet. The best tactic is, to begin with a small dose and increase as needed.
CBD could help Alzheimer’s due to its interactions with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). More pertinently, the cannabinoid’s effect on cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). CBD has a weak impact on CB2 receptors, known to decrease the inflammatory response. Cannabidiol also prevents the breakdown of 2-AG, one of the body’s most prevalent endogenous cannabinoids. By increasing 2-AG levels, CBD further activates the CB2 receptors.
Finally, the compound activates the PPARg receptor. The result is a reduction in brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s patients. There is preclinical data that shows the effectiveness of microglia inhibitors and PPARg receptor activators. In theory, CBD can achieve this with minimal side effects. We need a lot more data from human clinical trials.
In any case, CBD could reduce the AB-plaque burden, prevent microglia activation, and prevent tangles. Once again, we need research that shows these benefits in humans, and not just rodents.
Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and CBD
Unfortunately, there is a lack of human studies into the effects of CBD oil benefits for Alzheimer’s. Watt and Karl reviewed studies that looked into the potential of CBD oil for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. They published their paper in Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2017. It concluded that there is “‘proof of principle’ for the therapeutic benefits CBD and possibly CBD-THC combinations pose for AD therapy.”
However, it acknowledged that the research is limited to studies on mice aged 3-6 months. The mice are relatively young since Alzheimer’s diagnosis usually happens relatively late in the disease’s progression. Nonetheless, research offers ‘promising preclinical data.’ The researchers also suggested that translating this work into a clinical setting is quickly achievable.
Broers et al. published a study in Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids in 2019. It looked at the administration of a THC/CBD based medication in patients with dementia. The researchers gave ten female patients a drug consisting of THC and CBD. The patients experienced a lower level of rigidity and a 40% decrease in behavioral problems. Moreover, the effects persisted for the duration of the two-month study.
Maroon and Bost also looked at the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids. Their research appeared in Surgical Neurology International in 2018. The duo compiled research from human and animal studies. They found that CBD and THC had potential anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and neuroprotective effects. The cannabinoids helped patients with one of a variety of neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Alzheimer’s
Preliminary testing offers positive CBD Alzheimer’s results for people living with the condition. Clinical examination suggests CBD oil for Alzheimer’s is no less safe for dementia patients than those not living with the disease. At present, the side effects associated with cannabidiol are relatively mild. It is a non-intoxicating compound that does cause a ‘high.’
Research to date suggests that CBD could theoretically prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It does so by reducing inflammation, acting as a neuroprotectant, and decreasing oxygen buildup. However, practically all of the research to date has taken place in mice.
The passing of the 2018 Farm Bill into law should help increase the number of studies. While the bill didn’t legalize CBD, it did remove hemp from the list of controlled substances. Most farmers now grow industrial hemp to feed the CBD market. The FDA talks tough but is highly unlikely to make a billion-dollar industry illegal overnight.
If you decide to use CBD for Alzheimer’s, there are several options. You can try CBD oil, capsules, edibles, or even topicals. Unfortunately, there are no clinical guidelines as to dosage. It is best, to begin with, a relatively small dose to see how you react. Increase as necessary until you are happy with the effects.