Individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia often go through a period of significant behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). It is estimated that up to 90% of persons with dementia (PWD) experience behavior problems at some point. BPSDs can be challenging for both unpaid family caregivers as well as paid caregivers. Family caregivers provide the bulk of care for PWD and number over 15 million. One of the most common types of BPSDs is agitation with a prevalence of up to 87%, based on a recent systematic review. Agitation can lead to impaired daily functioning, prolongation of hospitalization, reduced time to institutionalization, and is associated with higher mortality. Additionally, agitated behavior is associated with increased injury to both patients and caregivers. Based on the 2018 Alzheimer’s disease drug development pipeline report almost 70% of clinical trials related to BPSD are dedicated to agitation behavior. Finding ways to address agitation is necessary to improve overall quality of life for PWD and their caregivers. Currently, there are no medications available specifically for the treatment of BPSDs. The use of benzodiazepines, antipsychotics and mood stabilizing agents are common, but the risks and side effects often outweigh any benefits.
Several small studies have investigated the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of pathology and symptomology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), as well as treatment of the agitation component of BPSD. A handful of these studies showed that the symptoms of BPSD were decreased with the use of cannabinoids. However, due to small sample sizes, study design, and short trial duration of these studies, the efficacy of these agents on BPSD cannot be confirmed. In addition, cannabinoids have demonstrated anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and both processes have been indicated as major contributors to the neurologic effects of AD. Some evidence exists that agitation is related to this neuroinflammatory process. This study will examine the effects of cannabinoids on the behavioral and psychological symptoms of individuals with a dementia diagnosis.
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When the brain’s immune cells fail to clear blockages associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the result is an inflammatory response. When inflammation happens in the brain, oxygen is released as a result. The greater the inflammation, the greater the negative impact. Important brain functions such as memory are decreased as more oxygen is released in the brain’s cells. Memory loss and other brain deterioration indirectly leads to increased oxygen in the brain. CBD is an antioxidant, which helps reduce the problems associated with oxygen stress. Brain functions negatively impacted by oxygen stress can be improved by using CBD.
2) CBD is a sedative and reduces awareness or alertness
Even in high doses (600mg), CBD has not produced sedating effects in healthy humans. CBD usually makes humans feel more awake and alert without negative impact on sleeping patterns. What is more likely happening is that cannabis strains being used by a patient that have high levels of CBD also contain a potentially sedating natural oil (terpene) such as myrcene.
Risks & Side Effects
More recently, in a study researchers were able to increase levels of proteins in the brain (called IL-33 and TREM2) that maintain cognitive functions by eliminating dead cells and helping clear beta-amyloid plaque tangles associated with the disease. After CBD was regularly injected into mice afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, scientists noticed major improvements in their ability to think. Specifically, the mice could better tell the difference between old objects and new ones. The mice’s movement improved, as well. People with Alzheimer’s often develop stiffness that affects their ability to walk, and mice with these same symptoms will continuously walk in a tight circle. After CBD treatments, that behavior stopped.