Why CBD for Dementia?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is gaining popularity for its potential to assist many chronic and short-term conditions. CBD is a cannabinoid molecule produced by the cannabis plant and can be consumed naturally in marijuana or hemp products, or removed through a process of extraction and made into a variety of CBD products like oil, edibles, or salves.
One area that researchers are interested in is the potential of CBD to help neurological conditions. With research compounding and new studies being conducted regularly, scientists are finding more and more interesting benefits of CBD and the way it interacts with the brain. Understanding how CBD and other cannabinoids interact with the brain is a complicated undertaking because the brain itself is incredibly complex and contains a wide variety of receptors, conducting a multitude of interactions every second. As complex as the research is, it’s already showing positive results and many are hopeful for what more research will bring.
First, it’s important to understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining the body’s state of homeostasis. This is an important function of the human body because all internal systems need to be in a state of equilibrium to work effectively. When a problem is noticed, the ETS kicks on and rushes to the location of the instability in order to stabilize the condition.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- The endocannabinoids are chemical compounds the body naturally produces. These are structurally similar to endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
- The cannabinoid receptors, which are found on the surface of cells throughout the body. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to attach to these receptors allowing them to communicate with a variety of systems inside the body. This communication is what enables the ECS to detect and correct instability.
- Enzymes work to break down the cannabinoids and endocannabinoids after they’ve attached themselves to the receptors and after homeostasis has been achieved. At the core, enzymes are there to make sure the cannabinoids do not create an overcorrection once the risk has been effectively corrected.
Inside the brain are highly specialized cells called neurons which connect to other neurons through structures called synapses. By releasing chemicals known as neurotransmitters, neurons are able to communicate with each other and each neuron has its own receptors. The receptors respond to chemicals produced by the brain (dopamine, serotonin) as well as chemicals produced outside the body, like cannabinoids.
Since cannabinoids from cannabis plants are similar to naturally produced compounds in the body, it’s possible for CBD to attach itself to the receptors in the same way as endocannabinoids. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and once attached acts as an antagonist, binding to receptors and dampening their signals.
For example, CBD works to inhibit the FAAH enzyme which breaks down the anandamide endocannabinoid the body produces. Anandamide produces a calming feeling, so by keeping the enzymes from destroying this compound a naturally therapeutic effect should be felt immediately .
How CBD may help with Dementia
Dementia-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease, Frontotemporal dementia, and Huntington’s disease all have the potential to be helped by CBD. Research suggests that cannabinoids such as CBD have the potential to remove the toxic protein associated with dementia from the connections between the brain cells while also increasing those same connections to assist in cognitive stability. Research has also shown this particular toxin to cause inflammation in the brain and higher rates of neuron death. Scientists were able to conclude that introducing cannabinoids reduced the levels of this toxin, thus eliminating the inflammatory response which allowed the nerve cells to survive .
CBD has been shown to not only reduce the impact of inflammation and oxygen build up that lead to brain cell decline, it’s also believed to be able to remove already existing effects . When the brain’s immune cells fail to work effectively to clear blockages that cause disorientation, the brain becomes inflamed which increases the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease. This inflammation is the main reason Alzheimer’s disease reacts so positively to CBD, a compound known for its anti-inflammatory properties .
One major trigger for Alzheimer episodes is the release of oxygen due to stress or as a reaction to another process. In most occurrences, oxygen is released after inflammation happens in the brain. The more inflammation, the more oxygen is released and the greater the negative effects on someone suffering from or in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Many important brain functions such as memory and brain deterioration are tied to the amount of oxygen in brain cells. CBD also has powerful antioxidant properties, allowing it to assist in the reduction of additional oxygen being released into the brain .
Unfortunately many Alzheimer patients see a quick decline and ultimately destruction of their brain cells, so the potential of CBD to help keep the brain cells healthy for longer is important. A recent study showed that CBD could actually have the ability to reverse and possibly prevent the development of Alzheimers by promoting the growth and development of brain cells, helping to keep the brain healthy . This would help reduce how quickly the brain loses memory or other brain functions.
In general terms, vascular dementia refers to a condition that causes a person to have problems with reasoning, planning, judgement, and other brain functions like memory. It’s caused by reduced or impaired blood flow to the brain. Researchers have discovered, however, that by using CBD to activate the CB2 receptors they were able to observe better blood flow into the brain .
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is caused by abnormal deposits of protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein. These deposits, also called Lewy bodies, affect chemicals in the brain. When these brain chemicals are altered, a person can experience problems thinking, sleeping, moving, and maintaining their normal behaviors and mood. Because CBD does not block the chemical that LBD attacks unlike other forms of pain or anxiety management drugs, it can be very effective as an anti-inflammatory treatment to reduce motor symptoms like tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia .
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) actually refers to a group of disorders all caused by progressive nerve loss in the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain. FTD often leads to depression or psychosis and is extremely debilitating to those who suffer. Unfortunately many antipsychotic drugs used to treat this condition also lead to an increased risk of death. Research has shown CBD to be effective in treating frontotemporal dementia with none of the risks associated with other forms of medication. It works to reduce inflammation, reduce anxiety, reduce tremors, and maintain the ever important circadian sleep rhythms .
Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited disorder resulting in damage and death of brain cells. Symptoms can present themselves early in the form of subtle changes in mood and mental abilities, followed by a lack of coordination and an unsteady stride. Like other forms of dementia, CBD helps control inflammation and adds powerful antioxidants to a patient’s treatment plan. CBD is also safer at higher doses, giving doctors and patients more options in treatment .
CBD is a relatively new product on the market and certainly new as a treatment for medical conditions. That means there are some things that people frequently misunderstand about the product. They include:
- CBD is a sedative. This is untrue. Even in doses as high as 600mg, research has shown that CBD does not produce sedative effects in healthy humans. In fact, CBD can often work to clear the mind, making someone feel more alert. CBD has a calming effect, which often leads people to think it also means sedated, but it can work for either purpose. By clearing the mind, reducing anxiety, and alleviating pain, a person is free to do what they choose without interruption of those symptoms. Whether that be sleep or work is up to them. One thing to look for in CBD, however, is the amount of the terpene myrcene in the strain being consumed. Myrcene is actually the compound responsible for activating a sedative state, so depending on a person’s needs, it could be beneficial to select a strain that has more or less of these powerful terpenes.
- All CBD sources are the same. CBD can come from many sources and in many different forms. It’s important to know which source and type works best for each person’s individual needs. Reading labels, manufacturer reviews, and customer product reviews can be very helpful. Often CBD will come with third party testing results. During the initial stages of working out dosing and CBD types, this information can make the decision making process much easier.
- CBD is legal in the United States. This can be tricky and is certainly not made any easier by the fluctuations in laws on a state by state basis. At a federal level, CBD with less than 0.3% THC is considered legal. Some states, however, have created their own laws and restrictions on CBD. Many states have age restrictions on sales, many only allow CBD by doctor’s prescription, and a few states still prohibit CBD in all forms. Before making a purchase, research what is legal in your state and follow those guidelines exactly.
Dementia is a life changing condition for those who suffer and those who love them. It can seemingly end a life years before normal and cause tremendous suffering and pain to all those involved. The possibility of CBD as a source of treatment and therapeutic aid for dementia is important to patients and the research continues trying to find the best way to treat them.