Medical Marijuana Research: Hope in the Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease
While many of us realize that Alzheimer’s disease poses a significant health risk to the elderly, few of us understand how prevalent this disease is truly becoming. According to a study published in the journal Neurology in 2014, the long-held suspicions of many clinicians and researchers are in fact true: Alzheimer’s deaths have been greatly under-reported.
The reasons for this are manifold: One, many people die of physical complications which arise from Alzheimer’s, but as the physical component of Alzheimer’s is often overlooked, this does not receive a great deal of mainstream attention. It is, however, common; Alzheimer’s frequently affects swallowing, for example, allowing bits of food to enter the patient’s lungs. This in turn leads to pneumonia, which is frequently fatal.
Additionally, nearly half of all people who develop Alzheimer’s are not diagnosed, largely due to poor screening processes and a lack of knowledge among physicians regarding Alzheimer’s characteristics and progression.
Finally, there are social and economic factors; older people often avoid visiting the doctor owing to fear of a diagnosis or due to a lack of affordable, accessible care. Sometimes doctors even try to protect patients and their families from despair by not revealing the true nature of a patient’s illness. On the other end of the spectrum, some people view dementia as simply a normal part of aging and don’t actively address their condition even when they are aware of it.
This has resulted in a kind of silent epidemic; according to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2050 the number of people with Alzheimer’s will triple, and the cost of caring for those afflicted will exceed one trillion dollars. Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have already risen 68 percent since the year 2000, and there is no “official” cure in sight. (Unsurprising, given that amidst this ongoing crisis, the federal government has been spending only about a tenth on Alzheimer’s research what it does on cancer research.)
The fight against Alzheimer’s is, however, not as hopeless as it may at first seem; despite the government’s relative lack of attention, a startling new potential treatment has emerged: Medical marijuana. The findings of a report originally published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease “strongly suggest that THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions and pathways.”
The study’s author, Chuanhai Cao, PhD and a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the USF College of Pharmacy, explains the findings in more detail: “THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function.”
As Alzheimer’s Disease is thought to arise from the cumulative effects of brain inflammation, which in turn increases beta-amyloid levels and causes the formation of plaques on the brain (the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease), these findings suggest that further medical marijuana research could very well lead to a cure for this life-destroying illness. The battle, however, is likely to be uphill; even as the government has patented marijuana molecule CBD as a neuroprotectant, it paradoxically declares marijuana itself a schedule 1 drug with “no medical use and high potential for abuse,” despite rapidly-accumulating evidence to the contrary.
Cerrone Crowder is the CEO of The D.O.P.E (Delivering Opportunities for People Everywhere) House Inc., a nonprofit based in the Chicago-land area whose mission is aimed at providing equal Medical Marijuana access to low-income patients. As an emergency medical professional for over a decade, “The Weed Professor” has dedicated himself to educating the masses on the numerous health benefits of the cannabis plant. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org