You may have smoked marijuana recreationally in your youth (or even later in life). On the other hand, you may never have even considered it and have strong objections to its use. But whichever side of the fence you happen to be on, a recent Salk Institute for Biological Studies study may make you start looking at marijuana in a whole new light.
According to a July CNN story, “THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, stimulates the removal of toxic plaque in the brain, a common feature of the disease.” It also appears to prevent inflammation, which causes neuron damage in the brain.
“It is reasonable to conclude that there is a therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” wrote David Schubert, senior researcher and a professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Keith Fargo of the Alzheimer’s Association, which funded some of Schubert’s early research, has said that marijuana is a “legitimate avenue of research.”
However, other researchers, like Dr. Donovan Maust, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan who has studied marijuana’s effects on dementia, has cautioned that there are too many unknowns for medical marijuana to be used as a treatment for the disease.
Even if it hasn’t reached the stage where doctors will begin prescribing it yet, family members of those with mild or moderate dementia are reporting THC’s or whole-plant marijuana’s effectiveness in mitigating their loved one’s confusion and agitation, according to chief of palliative care services at Duke University, Dr. David Casarett.
Casarett’s experiences correspond with findings from a 2014 Dutch review of past research that pointed to THC’s benefits in treating symptoms of dementia. A small 2016 study also found that “THC helped decrease symptoms of delusions, agitation or aggression, irritability, apathy and sleep in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” the CNN story reported.
Much research is still needed to move medical marijuana from a “potential treatment” to a recommended one, but researchers are hamstrung in their study by the drug’s Schedule I classification by the federal government. Casarett believes that reclassifying medical marijuana as Schedule II or III would give way to improved research.
Despite the potential of these findings, medical marijuana is still only treatment. Scientists and doctors are still working tirelessly toward finding a prevention or a cure for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions.
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