The Alzheimer’s Society states that Dementia is a generalized term for loss of memory and other mental abilities which are severe enough to interfere with daily life and even simple activities.  It is caused by physical changes in the brain. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but there are many kinds.

Dementia cannot be confirmed until a patient is deceased. Post-mortem brain tissue testing is necessary to accurately diagnose Dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, symptoms of dementia can vary, but at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly decreased to be considered dementia:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception
  • Mood changes
  • Decreased cognitive abilities
  • Muscle degeneration
  • Restlessness and agitation

Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.There are at least eleven types of Dementia including Huntington’s Disease, Frontaltemporal Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease Dementia and Vascular Dementia. 

Dementia can affect all aspects of a person’s life. They may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of personal possessions, finances, meal prep, remembering important details, appointments and people. Dementia is hard on the patient, and often harder on the family or caregivers. Caregivers often suffer from isolation, depression, anxiety and decreased self-care.

The Dementia Society of America attributes Dementia to rising healthcare costs as billions are spent each year for treatments and research. Their mission is to enhance the quality of life for those living with Dementia and caregivers as this disease has become a global epidemic. They recognize that in addition to “the financial burdens, family and care partners looking after loved ones and friends are often emotionally frustrated and physically stretched to the maximum.”

The CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion publication published an article titled “Dementia and Its Implications for Public Health”states that as the global population increases, the prevalence of Dementia will increase dramatically.  They estimate that the number of people aged 65 years and older is expected to increase from 35 million in 2000 to 71 million in 2030. The number of people aged 80 years and older is also expected to double, from 9.3 million in 2000 to 19.5 million in 2030. Globally, the number of older adults (aged 65 years and older) is projected to increase even more dramatically — more than doubling from 420 million in 2000 to 973 million in 2030.

Pharmaceutical treatments for for Dementia often only target symptoms like pain or depression, but those medicines do not cure or prevent the disease. The clinical trials for medications take years and to this date, there have been no effective medications to properly treat and/or cure Dementia. An L.A. Times article examined the effectiveness of Alzheimer’s disease medications for Dementia patients earlier in the course of the disease. It was often reported that the medications did very little in the way of improving mental functions and improving memory.

Medical marijuana is an effective treatment for patients suffering from Dementia. Within the past 30 years, there has been an increase in substantial research which supports cannabis as a medical intervention.  An article published in Psychiatric Times (part of the Modern Medicine Network) titled “Medical Marijuana and Dementia-Associated Agitation: Stirring the Pot” cites “a positive open-label trial of medical cannabis oil, cited by Maust and colleagues, which used a marijuana extract high in THC and low in other marijuana alkaloids.” Patients reported a significant reduction in delusions, agitation/aggression, irritability, apathy, sleep and caregiver distress.

The Journal of Psychopharmacology analyzed a study in which THC was used to determine its effects on Dementia patients’ balance. The article, titled “Effects of tetrahydrocannabinol on balance and gait in patients with dementia: A randomised controlled crossover trial,” found that when patients ingested THC their stride/walking length increased.

American Chemical Science (ACS) Chemical Neuroscience published a study which “investigated whether a 1:1 combination of botanical extracts enriched in either Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), which are the main constituents of the cannabis-based medicine Sativex (a prescription-based pharmaceutical), is neuroprotective in Huntington’s disease (HD), a form of Dementia.

Furthermore, this study reflects preclinical evidence in support of a beneficial effect of a  cannabis-based medicine to act as a neuroprotective agent capable of delaying disease progression in a proinflammatory model of HD. While more clinical trials involving the direct effects of cannabis on the neurological system are needed, patient self-reporting supports the science: medical marijuana offers relief from a myriad of Dementia symptoms.

Dementia patients and their loved ones should speak with a certifying Medical marijuana physician to determine which methods and strains will be most beneficial.

 

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