Potential Marijuana Benefits for Dementia

Human Brain Diagram Dementia
Photo by: SpeedKingz/Shutterstock

Human Brain Diagram Dementia
Photo by: SpeedKingz/Shutterstock
Marijuana has a vast variety of health benefits that are being studied and unlocked by scientists worldwide. The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease released a study in 2014 that concluded microdoses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) slow down the production of a protein called beta-amyloid proteins. Experts believe that beta-amyloid proteins are the key to preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s. The study was conducted by the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine in Tampa.

CNBC reported that the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California also conducted a study in 2016, in which scientists also found that THC decreases the toxic beta-amyloid protein that builds up on the brain. Beta-amyloid is believed to be the neurodegenerative disease’s main cause. Researchers say that they may be able to use marijuana to halt the buildup of beta-amyloid protein prior to a patient showing symptoms, therefore preventing brain cells from becoming inflamed. Inflammation and death of the cells are what lead to the memory loss.

Scientists at the Salk Institute established that THC removed beta-amyloid from the inside of the cells, proving that THC mimics the naturally occurring endocannabinoids that the human body makes. Scientists at the Salk Institute think that mainstream science experts are wrong in their approach to eliminating toxins built up outside of the brain cell. Dr. Schubert believes that it is too late once the buildup occurs, saying, “What we are trying to do is get rid of the plaque amyloid protein while it is still inside the cell, at a much earlier stage in the progression of the disease.”

Federal Laws Prevent Research on Marijuana Benefits

Because cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, funding for research on marijuana’s health benefits has been compromised. The Salk Institute receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, which is a federal agency. Even though the Salk Institute is in a legal marijuana state, scientists must apply for funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The application process typically takes several months.

Dr. David Schubert is the head scientist of the study and says that the federal laws interfere with progress. “It’s so blatantly obvious that this plant should be studied in greater detail, and yet we have this major roadblock stopping it… It’s a totally unexplored area, because researchers have been stopped by the DEA, due to the way the agency classifies marijuana. People are dying of this disease, and there is nothing out there for them,” he said. He added that marijuana is not physically addictive and is only psychologically addictive, just like sugar and salt, which are not Schedule 1 drugs.

Equally disturbing is the influence that pharmaceutical companies have in Washington, D.C. to block scientific research on marijuana benefits, all while their own manufactured drugs are failing clinical trials. Schubert said, “Pharmaceutical companies want to stop the use of cannabis in the research community because it’s a natural product, so it can’t be patented.” He added that since the companies can’t make money on cannabis, they aren’t interested in studying the plant. Only 5 drugs are approved to treat dementia in the U.S., and they aren’t effective for everyone and don’t work for very long.

Advocates have requested that the government change the classification of marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug, which includes cocaine and heroin, to a Schedule 3 drug, along with Vicoden and Tylenol. All requests have been denied. The spokesman for the FDA, Michael Felberbaum, said that “Ongoing scientific and medical evaluation determined at this time that the marijuana plant continues to have high potential for abuse and does not meet the criteria outlined by the DEA for currently accepted medical use, requiring its continued placement in Schedule 1 under the law.” The more than 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana disagree.

The Potential Positive Impact

THC Molecule Human Brain
Photo by: Shidlovski/Shutterstock
About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and that number is expected to double every 20 years. More than half of dementia patients are middle-to-low income, and that number is increasing. Dementia costs an estimated $818 billion per year globally.

While U.S. federal laws continue to prevent scientific research, Europe is making progress finding marijuana’s benefits. Scientists from Germany and Israel conducted a study together that concluded tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) could cure dementia. The University of Bonn and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that cognitive functioning and memory performance of elderly mice improved with microdoses of THC. Professor Andreas Zimmer at The University of Bonn’s Institute of Molecular Psychiatry said that the microdosing of THC reversed the dementia. “The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals,” he said.

With the current medications for dementia being subpar, perhaps the time has come to legalize cannabis so that scientists can study marijuana’s benefits for treatment or a cure.

Article by: Niko Mann