In the field of medicine, Alzheimer’s is described as a neurodegenerative syndrome that sets in after the age of 65 and affects memory, behaviour, and autonomy. Patients experience how their intellectual capacities and learning abilities decline. Nowadays, the global presence of this disease indicates world population ageing. In 2020, the global number of patients with Alzheimer’s amounted to 42 million, and 4.1 million of these resided in Latin America. Around 50 million people have been diagnosed with dementia, out of which 70% were represented by Alzheimer’s.
This disease was first defined in 1907 by German neurologist Aloysius Alois Alzheimer, after observing a patient who died from dementia at 56. The post-mortem report describes her brain as “excessively wrinkled and reduced in size”; the brain atrophy is caused by the loss of neurons.
The brains of people suffering from this disease show a selective loss of neurons on the hippocampus and other areas of the cerebral cortex. The characteristic feature of this disease is the occurrence of “amyloid plaques,” resulting from a disruption in the neuron’s transport system. According to Dr. Alejandro Anderson, a physician researching on the use of cannabis as an adjuvant theory, the ageing process makes this disease harder to endure because of the insidious nature of the illness.
Normally, Alzheimer’s is diagnosed when the patient, his or her family or close relatives become aware of episodes of memory loss, confusion, changes in personality traits, and other kinds of cognitive impairment. Minor memory lapses appear during the first stages of the disease. From there on, time and space disorientation gradually sets in. Severe symptoms include a deficit in the ability to identify others and a change in behaviour, until reaching a terminal stage, where the patient becomes rigid, mute, incontinent, and confined to bed.
The Therapeutic Effect of Cannabis on Alzheimer’s
Cannabis has a therapeutic effect on Alzheimer’s thanks to endocannabinoids. Several studies in animal models have found a greater expression level of CB2 receptors in the microglia: cells that sustain and support the nervous system. As these receptors activate, the levels of neurotoxins drop, proinflammatory mediators are inhibited, and the amount of amyloid deposits decreases. The higher expression of this receptor acts as a supplementary aid to prevent inflammation and, therefore, neuron damage—meaning that cognitive impairment progresses slower, improving the patient’s quality of life. There is a mistaken theory pointing to cannabis as a source of dementia, but this cannot be further from the truth and restrains patients from finding an adjuvant aid in cannabis for the treatment of this disease.
Administration of Cannabis in Patients with Alzheimer’s
As described by Dr. Celeste Romero and Dr. Marcelo Morante in their book “Cannabis Medicinal, La Guía Completa” [Medical Cannabis, the Complete Guide] (2021), speaking broadly, the families of patients using cannabis derivatives to treat symptoms report improvements in sleeping habits and humour, a behavioural reduction of aggressiveness, and appetite increase, which considerably improves the lives of those suffering from this disease. In this case, the recommended strains are those containing similar THC and CBD levels, as well as strains that are rich in terpenes, such as pinene, linalool, and limonene.
Regarding administration forms and dosage, cannabis can be taken sublingually in the form of cannabis oil, orally in the form of cannabis tea, vaped as flower, or ingesting fresh flower. It is worth noting that any kind of administration form and dosage must be indicated by a qualified professional and a doctor who guides the patient through this treatment in order to ensure safety.