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CBD for Alzheimer's Disease

What we know about using CBD Oil for Alzheimer’s Disease

What is Alzheimer’s Disease

As a type of dementia predominantly affecting individuals from their mid-60s and over, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by an impairment in memory, cognition, and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Symptoms and stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is characterized by the accumulation of senile plaques due to amyloid-β accumulation, which leads to brain inflammation, oxidative stress, and eventual neurodegeneration, memory, and behavioral impairments.

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease generally develops slowly and becomes increasingly worse over time, ultimately resulting in the symptoms interfering with daily life and tasks to a point where the individual becomes completely dependent on others for their care.

1. Mild Alzheimer’s disease (early stage)

Individuals in the early stage of Alzheimer’s may function independently, still able to engage in everyday activities such as working, driving, and participating in social activities. They may be experiencing some of the following early symptoms:

  • Difficulty remembering the right word or name
  • Trouble remembering names when introduced to new people
  • Problems performing tasks in social or work settings
  • Forgetting material that has just been read
  • Losing or misplacing valuable objects
  • Challenges with planning and organization.

2. Moderate Alzheimer’s disease (middle-stage)

This is often the longest stage of Alzheimer’s and can last for many years. As the disease progresses, individuals with Alzheimer’s will need increasing levels of care. Dementia symptoms become more pronounced and noticeable in the moderate stage, and may include:

  • Forgetting of personal history and events
  • Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
  • Inability to recall facts about themselves and their past (e.g. addresses, phone numbers, the schools they went to, and so on)
  • Confusion regarding time and location
  • Difficulty choosing appropriate clothing for the season or the occasion
  • Trouble controlling bladder and bowels
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Increased risk of wandering and becoming lost
  • Personality and behavioral changes (e.g. suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding)

3. Severe Alzheimer’s disease (last stage)

As is the case with progressive diseases, the final stage of Alzheimer’s is the most severe. Individuals in the final stage lose the ability to respond to their environment or communicate with others beyond words or phrases. Eventually, they lose the ability to control movement. Changes in personality may become significant, and the level of care necessary will increase substantially, often requiring 24/7 assistance and care. Severe symptoms include:

  • Complete loss of awareness of surroundings
  • Forgetting recent experiences
  • Slowing of physical abilities (e.g. walking, sitting, and eventually swallowing)
  • Increased difficulty communicating
  • Vulnerability to infections, especially pneumonia.

Alzheimer’s Disease Medications & Treatments

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, with medications and treatments focussing on slowing the progression of the disease, symptom management, and palliative care in later stages.

Pharmaceutical Interventions.

There are a variety of medications aimed at attempting to temporarily lessen the symptoms of memory loss and confusion in people with Alzheimer’s. In the early to moderate stages, cholinesterase inhibitors may be prescribed. In the moderate to severe stages, memantine and donepezil can be introduced. In addition, to aid with sleep, tranquillizers and other types of sleep medications are also often prescribed. However, all of these medications can present with several side-effects including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia and abnormal dreams

Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions.

In addition to medication, behavioral therapies are often utilized in order to find strategies to identify the needs of someone with Alzheimer’s. The aim is to improve care as well as optimize their environment to reduce confusion and increase ease of mind. All of these have the potential to positively influence disease progression as well as improve behaviors and increase the general comfort levels of the individual.

CBD for Alzheimer’s Disease

Research & Scientific Evidence

Cannabidiol (CBD) as an effective therapeutic option for helping to manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is in its infancy. However, the data that is coming from predominantly in vivo animal studies shows that CBD is promising on many fronts, and could provide substantial benefits for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

In a 2007 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, researchers looked at the neuroprotective effects of CBD in different models of amyloid-β neurotoxicity which is thought to underly Alzheimer’s Disease. Their main aim was to confirm, in vivo, the reported anti-inflammatory properties of CBD in order to develop a novel therapeutic approach to attenuating amyloid-β evoked neuroinflammatory responses.

Researchers inoculated mice with human amyloid-β peptide into the right dorsal hippocampus in order to “induce” Alzheimer’s neuronal mechanisms and damage. The mice were then intraperitoneally treated daily with either a placebo or CBD (either 2.5mg/kg or 10mg/kg depending on the experimental group) for 7 days. Analyses of cortical and hippocampal tissues as well as in situ hybridization of mRNA was done to evaluate results.

The data confirmed that CBD has powerful in vivo anti-inflammatory properties, showing that this compound has a promising pharmacological tool capable of reducing neuroinflammation and oxidative stress in the Alzheimer’s brain.

In an in-vivo animal study from 2011 published in Molecular Pharmacology, researchers investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD on amyloid-β microglial cell function thought to be responsible for the ongoing inflammatory condition and neurodegeneration in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Primary mixed glial cultures were prepared from the neonatal rat cortex and then injected into mice in order to induce glial activation and cognitive deficits as per the Alzheimer’s model. 20mg/kg of CBD was then daily administered intraperitoneally for a total of 18 days after which the mice were sacrificed and their cortices examined.

The researchers found that CBD has anti-inflammatory as well as neuroprotective effects and that it was able to prevent amyloid-β-induced cognitive deficits as well as inhibit different glial parameters in the hippocampus, the brain area responsible for memory and cognition. In addition, they found that CBD mediated glial activation modulation produced beneficial behavioral effects and memory improvements.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease explored the efficacy of long-term CBD treatment in the prevention of the development of social recognition and memory deficits in Alzheimer’s disease.

Control and Alzheimer’s Disease transgenic mice were treated orally with CBD (20 mg/kg) daily for 8 months. The mice were then assessed for social preference memory and fear conditioning paradigms, before cortical and hippocampal tissues were analyzed for amyloid-β load, neuroinflammation, and cortical oxidative stress.

The data showed that CBD has a positive impact on brain inflammation and oxidative stress in Alzheimer’s Disease transgenic mice as well as prevent the development of a social recognition deficit with particular relevance for symptoms of social withdrawal and facial recognition. From this, the researchers concluded that CBD shows potential as a preventative treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Anecdotal Evidence

Because doctors are still hesitant to discuss and prescribe CBD oil to Alzheimer’s patients, there is very little anecdotal evidence available. However, there are a few personal stories trickling out stating that, although the disease is not reversed or cured, CBD does help feel Alzheimer’s patients feel calmer and happier while generally improving the quality of life for both them and their caregivers.

Testimonials of Alzheimer’s patients taking CBD

CBD as a complementary treatment

CBD may be helpful as a complementary treatment for managing many of the behavioral symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease while also potentially being helpful in reducing some of the side-effects of many of the medications normally prescribed.

For example, CBD has been shown to help reduce anxiety, a symptom often accompanying symptoms of dementia by preventing the overstimulation of your CB1 receptors and boosting the production of endocannabinoids such as anandamide (aka bliss molecule). CBD has also shown to bind to 5-HT1A serotonin receptors that are thought to play a vital role in anxiety disorders.

Alzheimer’s Disease is also often characterized by sleeping difficulties which is often compounded by medications. This can lead to an interruption or lack of REM sleep and thought to contribute to cognitive dysfunction, anxiety, and depression. The calming and soothing properties of CBD can also help mediate insomnia and other types of sleep difficulties while also promoting REM sleep.

Bottom Line

From the scientific evidence, it is clear that the anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of CBD can help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease both neurologically as well as cognitively and behaviourally. In addition, early data suggests that CBD can also play a preventative role in the development of social, behavioral, and memory deficits. However, research is in the early stages and very few human trials have been completed and CBD should predominantly be considered as a complementary treatment to help manage and reduce symptoms.