Cannabidiol, or CBD, has proven through many studies to be of great promise to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. At a time where conventional medicine is struggling to halt the progression of the symptoms of an AD, let alone cure the disease’s core effects, CBD for Alzheimer’s Disease is offering the sufferers of the AD and their caregivers, who carry a daunting burden with their patients, some renewed hope.
By inducing effects that can help treat AD symptoms like
- loss of cognitive functions
- psychological illness, and
- behavioral change
CBD can be humanity’s savior from the threat of Alzheimer’s. Before we get into the medicinal properties of CBD oil and other forms of CBD-high cannabis extracts, though, we should understand more about Alzheimer’s disease, how it occurs, and how it is currently being treated.
Why Alzheimer’s Disease is Considered a Major Threat
Alzheimer’s disease seems to be among the most gruesome of our modern-day challenges as well as one of the most resistant to our constant purging efforts.
Our life expectancy levels today are at a historical high, with the 2017 average (1) for North American males standing at 77 years and for females at 81.
Unfortunately, though, ever-growing numbers of our seniors are being deprived of the enjoyment of their later phases in life due to this neurologically and cognitively debilitating disease known as Alzheimer’s.
Over 33 million people around the world suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
According to some estimates generated by the Alzheimer Society in Canada (2), there are more than 500,000 people suffering from general cases of dementia in Canada alone, and Alzheimer’s disease accounts for between 60%-80% of these patients.
The Alzheimer’s Association in the US gives even grimmer outlook at the momentum by which Alzheimer’s is eating at the neurological health of our elderly people, as well as young people to a certain extent.
According to the association’s estimates (3), there are around 5.7 million Americans living with AD, a number that is expected to surge up to 14 million by 2050 due to the rising numbers of aging populations.
The association states that one new AD patient develops the disease every 65 seconds and that 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another sort of dementia.
The most common forms of dementia:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia,
- Dementia with Lewy bodies, and
- Frontotemporal dementia.
This sequence was stated in a Canadian health report issued in 2016 (4), and the primacy of AD among other forms of dementia remains a saddening truth.
Alzheimer’s is actually coming to be just as hazardous or perhaps eventually even more so than heart disease, which for a long time has been the number one leading cause of death (5).
The deaths from heart disease have decreased by 11% in America in the period between 2000 and 2015, whereas AD-related deaths have increased by 123% within the same interval.
That puts it in 3rd – 6th place among the leading causes of death in high-income countries (6), with a death toll higher than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
The estimates that place it 6th don’t even account for multiple factors, most important among which is misdiagnosed, resulting in an unrealistic conception of AD’s contribution to mortality in the US.
A study published in Neurology back in 2014 concluded that the reported numbers of AD-related deaths are substantially lower than the real figures and that the disparity can be up to six-fold, placing AD at the 3rd place.
The Cost of Alzheimer’s
We did not even mention yet the financial and laborious burdens of caring for Alzheimer’s patients.
There are over $10 billion spent annually on countering the adverse effects of AD, and the costs of providing care for dementia patients in the US is expected to reach $277 billion this year, with a forecasted rise up to $1.1 trillion by 2050.
If you have an Alzheimer’s patient in the family, you probably know how consuming it is to take care of them as the disease progresses and how costly it can be to hire a caregiver.
The care that is provided to AD patients on an annual basis in the US is estimated at $232 billion for the 18.4 billion hours provided by caregivers.
With that lengthy introduction into the magnitude of the problem of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s time to get into the details of the disease itself.
Introduction to Alzheimer’s and the Causes behind It
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease remain a mystery to the medical community, with some indicators pointing to family history, aging, severe head injuries, and vascular diseases as prime causes of AD.
The mechanism by which it occurs is just as enigmatic, which explains the obstacles met by doctors in their attempts to treat the disease.
AD was discovered relatively recently, in 1906, by Dr. Alois Alzheimer.
Dr. Alzheimer discovered brain tissue alterations in a woman whose death was caused by an unconventional mental illness that wasn’t yet identified.
These changes in her brain, which in the main part were amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary (tau) tangles triggered by abnormal protein deposits, had caused memory loss, linguistic impediments, and bizarre behavior.
The Phases of Alzheimer’s disease
The earliest phase affects the person’s hippocampus, which is the brain compartment responsible for memory formation.
As the disease goes on terminating more neurons, more parts of the brain start shrinking, eventually leaving the patient with substantially shrunken brain tissue at the disease’s final stages.
Some of the early signals of AD can include trouble with finding words, spatial issues, and impaired judgment.
Later stages of AD can come with changes in the patient’s personality as their close ones knew them associated with a state of disorientation on the part of the patient.
Besides the shrinkage or atrophy that occurs in certain brain parts as a result of Alzheimer’s, the brain can also experience inflammation, the production of free radicals (unstable molecules), and the breakdown of cellular energy production.
Scientists did not yet get a hang of why these symptoms are triggered by aging. Genetics can play a role in the issue, but they only account for a slight portion of AD figures.
Some studies (7) point out a relationship between the cognitive deterioration experienced by AD cases and vascular issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. There is also a correlation between AD on the one hand and diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic conditions on the other.
Among the behavioral and psychological symptoms that are most common among AD patients are:
The treatment of these symptoms can bring about an improvement in the patient’s levels of comfort, as well as make matters easier for the caregivers.
Antipsychotic drugs are often used for that reason, in addition to several behavioral therapy techniques.
Unfortunately, the drugs have their own set of adverse effects (often severe) on the patients, and the therapy can only slow down the symptoms. But it does not address the disease’s underlying process.
Another important aspect of Alzheimer’s which can be triggered at the very early stages is an accumulation on the amyloid plaques and tau tangles that were mentioned earlier.
When these plaques and tangles occur, they prompt an immune response in the brain.
The microglia cells, which are the central nervous system’s main active line of defense, are triggered, but the over-activity of these cells can be counterproductive in that it can cause the production of cell-damaging compounds.
As these fragments continue to occur, paired with the cell damage, the brain loses more of its cognitive functions, such as speaking, memory, or social recognition that the patient might have never experienced any difficulties with prior to developing the disease.
How Alzheimer’s is Being Treated
Now that we have gone through the core hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s time to get into CBD’s medicinal potential in treating AD.
Before we do that, though, we should first examine the current conventional methods that are being used to treat the disease and why these are not delivering any desirable results beyond inhibiting some of AD’s symptoms.
We will also go through the side effects of conventional medication and therapy, and compare these with the side effects of treatment with CBD oil. To do so, we will have to examine the treatment used for each aspect or symptom of the disease.
As we have already mentioned, Alzheimer’s disease causes the death of brain cells and cuts off or slows down the interneuronal communication processes that support the brain’s cognitive functions including memory and speech.
There are various elements that are prescribed to Alzheimer’s patients for the purpose of treating memory loss, each depending on the disease’s stage.
There are cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept, Razadyne, and Exelon, as well as memantine which is most commonly consumed through a drug called Namenda.
These are used in treating cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s like confusion and impaired reasoning that tend to associate memory loss.
The cholinesterase inhibitors protect the brain’s acetylcholine, a chemical that supports learning and memory, from breakdown.
Memantine serves to regulate the glutamate in the brain, which is responsible for the processing, storage, and retrieval of information.
The cholinesterase inhibitors are prescribed for early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s, whereas Memantine is prescribed for moderate to severe stages.
The former cause nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, and increased bowel movements. The latter causes headaches, constant constipation, and confusion.
People with Alzheimer’s disease tend to develop changes in their behavioral patterns that even their closest ones cannot comprehend and are often perceived as the most distressing aspect of being a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient.
These tend to begin with obvious irritability, anxiety, and depression in the disease’s earlier stages.
They then advance into constant anger, agitation, aggression, distress, and restlessness accompanied by physical and verbal outbursts.
Hallucinations, delusions, and sleeplessness tend to appear in the severe stages of the disease as well.
These changes can emerge as results of misunderstandings, threats, or any sudden change in the patient’s environment.
They can also come about as side effects of other medication or due to prolonged discomfort, infections, or hearing and vision impairments.
There are multiple non-drug treatments that are used for behavioral symptoms of AD, which are predominantly things that the caregiver can offer the patient in terms of communication, emotions, etc.
If these fail to enhance the situation, then drug treatment becomes inevitable.
There are no specific medications for the behavioral symptoms of AD, though.
The medications used are usually antidepressants, anxiolytics, and antipsychotic medications, depending on exactly what symptoms are most demonstrated in the patient’s behavior.
Of course, the side effects of these classes of drugs are widely notorious.
Antidepressants’ side effects include nausea, weight gain, loss of sexual desire, fatigue, insomnia, and plenty more distressing effects.
Anti-anxiety drugs can cause nausea, too, as well as diarrhea, stomach discomfort, suicidal thoughts, elevated/low blood pressure, and blurred vision.
Antipsychotic drugs have side effects like drowsiness, restlessness, weight gain, and some of the side effects common with the other two categories.
Sleep Disturbances are highly associated with Alzheimer’s as well, and these, in particular, have puzzled scientists for quite a while now as to why they accompany AD.
The disturbances are most commonly either general insomnia or undesirable shifts in the patient’s sleep-wake cycle. Mostly, these can occur as a result of depression, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome.
There are non-drug treatments for AD-related sleep disturbances such as:
- maintaining a dietary routine
- maintaining sleep routine
- exposure to sunlight
- daily exercise and
- avoidance of alcohol
The caregiver is naturally the enforcer of such healthy habits.
If these do not prove to be effective, there are several categories of medications that are used to counter the sleep disturbances.
- tricyclic antidepressants
- antipsychotics, and
- sleeping pills.
Again, like in the case of the behavioral medications, these drugs are full of side effects, some of which can even be considered life-threatening.
Side Effects of Tricyclic Antidepressants (8) can cause:
- dry mouth
- blurred vision
- excessive sweating
- dizziness, and
- racing heartbeat among other things
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines (9) include:
- depression, and
- can be counterproductive as to further worsen the sleep disorders
Side Effects of Antipsychotic drugs (10):
- weight gain,
- memory problems
- stomach pain
- uncontrollable movements
- blurred vision, and
Side Effects of sleeping pills (11):
- appetite fluctuations
- burning or tingling feelings
- balance difficulties
- mental slowdowns, and
- various other adverse effects.
CBD for Alzheimer’s disease – How Cannabidiol Can Help
As you can see from the medications that we’ve listed, they are all aimed at slowing down or inhibiting some of the symptoms of AD without having the slightest effect on the underlying causes of the disease.
That is if we were to totally ignore their long lists of side effects.
That’s where high-CBD cannabis extracts come to pose some hope with regards to treating Alzheimer’s, for the number of studies that demonstrate CBD oil’s efficacy in that regard is ever-growing.
The following are the main attributes of Cannabidiol that are behind the viability of using CBD for Alzheimer’s disease.
CBD Reduces Your Inflammation
The neurodegeneration that occurs with Alzheimer’s disease tends to prompt a neuroinflammatory response.
This inflammation is normally associated with the progression of the disease.
Another source of inflammation is microglial cells.
These cells serve as the central nervous system’s immune surveillance.
In their natural degrees of activity, these cells effectively protect our central nervous system, but if their activity accelerates in excess as tends to happen with the progression of AD, these cells activate inflammatory mediators inside the brain.
CBD has been found (12) to inhibit microglial activation and to regulate the brain’s immune system.
A whitepaper (13) was issued in 2014 concluding that CBD had the capability to protect from neuroinflammation, excitotoxicity, and oxidative stress.
That results in the smoothening up of interneuronal communication, the reduction of neurological stress, and the neutralization of many of the psychological symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease such as depression, psychosis, and aggression.
Also, evidence was discovered regarding CBD’s capability to prevent neurotoxic activity and relax the blood vessels in order to allow them to dispose of toxins and plaques.
Another study (14) conducted by a team of Australian scientists concluded that CBD can reverse the social recognition deficits that result from AD.
It does so by exerting its neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidative capabilities.
These effects were demonstrated in a test on mice on which AD was first induced and then treated with Cannabidiol.
Their social memory deficits were wondrously reversed in some and any further deterioration was prevented in others.
Besides its anti-inflammatory effects, CBD oil also has anti-emetic, anti-convulsive, and analgesic effects.
Moreover, it has proved capable (15) of protecting neurotransmitters, which are central to cognitive functions and are directly threatened by Alzheimer’s disease, from toxicity.
Which brings us to neurotransmitters…
CBD Helps Your Neurotransmitters
CBD has been found (16) to accelerate the formation of amyloid fibrils in the brain, and these, in turn, serve to create stable complexes that maintain the connection between neurotransmitters.
By encouraging the brain’s natural repair mechanisms, CBD oil can prevent or at least reduce the formation of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary/tau tangles that are associated with AD.
That results from CBD’s activation of the CB1 and CB2 receptors inside the endocannabinoid system.
It’s important to understand that the CB1 receptors which are prevalent in key brain regions like the cerebellum, basal ganglia, hippocampus, and cortex.
These are the regions that are most harmed by the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and are closely associated with cognition.
CB2 receptors, on the other hand, spread throughout the brainstem, cerebellum, and microglia.
By activating these receptors, CBD can substantially enhance the AD patient’s cognitive functions by promoting what is known as neurogenesis (17).
It is within the same incidents of interaction between plant-based Cannabidiol and the CB2 receptor that CBD serves to regulate the activity of microglial cells, a function that was mentioned above in the neuroinflammation section.
Furthermore, because Cannabidiol does not directly bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors inside the endocannabinoid system, the substance does not result in any of the psychoactive effects associated with the other major cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD-high cannabis extracts even inhibit the effects of THC by preventing it from binding with these receptors.
However, it’s still substantially more effective, especially for medicinal purposes, to use full-spectrum CBD oil, which is primarily high on CBD yet contains traces of all of the cannabinoids that exist in the cannabis plant including THC.
That helps enact what is known as the “entourage effect” by which a portion of each cannabinoid that is extracted from the cannabis plant produces better results from interacting with the body than any single cannabinoid on its own.
CBD Help Your Behavioral Symptoms
We have already mentioned the sort of behavioral symptoms that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with. We also examined the side effects of their conventional treatments.
High-CBD cannabis extract, as has been proven in multiple therapeutic tests besides the treatment of the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s, is both a great antidote to several psychological and behavioral ailments and a virtually side effect-free alternative to conventional pharmaceutical treatments.
In the same paper (18) that was mentioned in the neurotransmitters section, Cannabidiol was found to inhibit the feelings of agitation and aggression as well as the proneness to anger outbursts that characterize many AD patients.
These behavioral patterns are related to the rapidity of neurons’ firing, and this is particularly one of the reasons behind the use of CBD for Alzheimer’s disease.
There is also overwhelming evidence (19) that CBD oil can help to manage cases of panic disorder, social phobia, and moderate depression. CBD can help all of these are symptoms that are prevalent among Alzheimer’s disease patients.
CBD for Alzheimer’s disease – The Wrap-Up
These are more or less the essential properties of Cannabidiol that make high-CBD cannabis extracts, and in particular CBD oil, of such great importance to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Since conventional medicine has failed over the years to counter this horrific disease, there’s evidence that CBD can not only stop the AD but even reverse it.
As more evidence is uncovered with regards to Cannabidiol’s anti-AD capabilities, the use of CBD among Alzheimer’s disease patients is expected to increase both as an exclusive alternative and as a supplement to pharmaceuticals and therapy.