Is it a good idea for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to use marijuana?

Doctor hand holding dry medical cannabis on table close up

Doctor writing a prescription for  medical marijuana

I live in Colorado, one of the few states where medical marijuana is legal, as well as recreational marijuana for adults 21 years or older. Before it was legal, my husband, who suffered from anxiety, stress and depression from Alzheimer’s disease, smoked it in a pipe and ate marijuana cookies and brownies. It calmed him down and, most importantly, put a grin back on his face. He would get happy, and although I did not partake it helped me to relax, too–just because he was happier and more relaxed.

How does marijuana help Alzheimer’s?

Numerous studies show that cannabis helps:

THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, helps reduce agitation and increase weight in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Anxiety is defined as the inability to settle down and includes behaviors such as verbal outbursts, pacing and restlessness, all of which may lead to patient combativeness. Additionally, Alzheimer’s patients often experience weight loss because they stop recognizing when they are hungry.

Clinical studies

Researchers at the Meridian Institute for Aging in New Jersey gave a daily dose of 10 to 20 milligrams of dronabinol (an artificial version of THC marketed under the name Marinol) to 48 patients who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and anorexia. After one month, two-thirds of the patients were significantly less agitated, and all of them had gained weight. There were no adverse side effects reported, such as falls, seizures or depression.Study results suggest dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC, the active ingredient in Cannabis sativa L (marijuana), may reduce agitation and lead to weight gain in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,

A 2014 preclinical study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that very small doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical found in marijuana, can slow the production of beta-amyloid proteins, thought to be a hallmark characteristic and key contributor to the progression of Alzheimer’s. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25024327. THC could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions and pathways. The study is among others to support the effectiveness of THC in prohibiting the growth of toxic amyloid plagues.

Co-author of the study, Neel Nabar, cautions against drawing quick conclusions from the study and says that numerous previous studies have shown that marijuana helps Alzheimer’s patients by reducing anxiety and inflammation, and improving appetite.

In this study, the researchers gave Alzheimer’s-afflicted mice various doses of pharmaceutical cannabinoids, which are 100 to 800 times more potent than marijuana compounds. The treated mice did not perform any better than untreated mice on memory tests, and they had just as much brain plaque formation as the untreated mice.

Can it reduce brain inflammation?

In 2005 researchers from Madrid’s Complutense University and the Cajal Institute published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience showing that  a synthetic cannabinoid appeared to reduce brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s.  Some researchers believe that reduction of this inflammation helps to prevent the mental decline associated with this disease.

Three years later, in March 2008, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain unveiled research showing that cannabis-based treatments could improve memory loss in Alzheimer’s sufferers.   Spanish researchers, this time working with a research team from Israel, found that one of the 400 compounds in the marijuana plant could significantly slow memory problems caused by the disease.  A by-product of their research was the finding that the same drug can also help Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as insulin dependent diabetes).

In observing my husband’s reaction to smoking pot and eating edibles, I can say that neither helped to improve or slow down his memory decline. 

In December 2008, results of a study showing that it’s the anti-inflammatory effect of cannabis that appears to help in Alzheimer’s disease were published.  Scientists continue to debate about the role inflammation of the brain plays in Alzheimer’s, and many researchers believe that it plays an important role in the dementia process.

The question comes up that if reduction of inflammation is all it takes to halt mental decline associated with Alzheimer’s, why doesn’t taking an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, help the condition?  Supposedly, anti-inflammatory drugs such as these have been shown in tests to help young brains, but not to help older brains.I have not found any such studies, but I do believe, along with numerous researchers, that inflammation is a major culprit in chronic disease.

Turmeric has been shown to be a traditional anti-inflammatory spice that has been found to have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s and dementia. Look for my future post about how turmeric supports memory and helps prevent dementia.

Therapeutic Cannabis Dosage for Alzheimer’s

According to Gary Wenk, Ph.D., author of the December 2008 study and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University, “a puff is enough.”  He goes on to say that although this dose would probably have some sort of psychoactive effect strictly medical use is not ruled out.  The drug could be taken before bedtime, Wenk says, and with long-term use, tolerance to these psychoactive effects can develop, so impairment might be minimal with a steady dose anyway.

Don Abrams, M.D., chief of hematology/oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, has studied medical marijuana use in people with HIV for more than a decade. He says, “Cannabis is anti-inflammatory and it is also an antioxidant, and those are two things that we seek in treating neurodegenerative disorders.  It’s there, it’s in nature, if the research does find that it has these benefits, why not take advantage of it?”

Marijuana increases appetite and reduces anxiety

It’s important to note the difference, however, between these findings and the beneficial findings of other studies. Alzheimer’s patients often lose the ability to know whether they are hungry or not, and medical marijuana does help induce appetite. It also reduces anxiety. So, in the end, if you are considering giving your loved one medical marijuana for Alzheimer’s symptoms, be aware that it will probably not help improve memory. But it very well may help increase appetite and reduce anxiety.

My husband ate well until he was in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. By then, he would not have been able to ingest marijuana in any shape or form. But earlier in the disease process it helped him feel better when everything in his world was being tossed and turned upside down. If you are looking for an antidote to anxiety and depression, consider it for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you prefer not to deal with the nasty odor (some people like it, I don’t) then ask your doctor about the pharmaceutical THC tincture. Or, you can always bake marijuana cookies and brownies. Just make sure they are in a container that is child-proof and hidden from your pets, visitors and children.

Hope for Reversing Alzheimer’s Disease

Group of mature people doing yoga

Seniors practicing yoga for relaxation and flexibility

For dozens of techniques and tools for supporting cognitive health and reducing mental decline check out my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” — Available wherever books are sold, including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com

On the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, there are approximately 17 hours of light. This year it happened to coincide with the Strawberry Moon, the June full moon. It’s a special time for healing and wrapping yourself and your loved ones in a luxurious robe of compassion and kindness. The longest day of the year is also a special day that thousands of Alzheimer’s Association volunteers join together to raise millions of dollars to honor those facing Alzheimer’s disease for educational programs and research.

It’s a particularly appropriate time to learn about a new study that suggests that a drug and lifestyle regimen can reverse mental decline in Alzheimer’s patients and those with mild cognitive impairment. First, it’s important to know that the study only included 10 patients, some with mild cognitive impairment, subjective cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers created personalized multi-faceted treatment programs for each patient, including diet changes, exercise, improved sleep, brain stimulation, drugs and vitamins.

The patients were treated for between five and 24 months. All 10 patients showed improvements in thinking and memory, and some were even able to return to work and complete tasks that had become impossible for them as their mental abilities declined, according to United Press International.

“The magnitude of improvement in these 10 patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective,” Dr. Dale Bredesen, a professor at the Buck Institute and the University of California Los Angeles, said in a news release.

I have not seen the study, so I can’t comment on the specifics, but the overall treatment plan sounds as though it includes a healthy lifestyle regimen, which could be applied to anyone who wants to maintain mental acuity, stamina, a stronger immune system and overall physical health. The one caveat with the personalized multi-faceted treatment program in the study is that it is vital that the patient continues and maintains the program. Because as soon as an individual ceased to be regular, the old symptoms returned and the decline was steady.

 

Here is my list of 10 recommendations for maintaining cognitive function and boosting brain power

  1. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain is 70% water when fully hydrated. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking.
  2. Ginkgo biloba has been proven in hundreds of studies to help blood circulation to the brain, sharpening mental performance, increasing concentration and short-term memory. A well-known study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that supplementation with 40 mg of ginkgo three times a day for one year had a positive effect on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trail of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. 
  1. Vitamin B complex optimizes cognitive activity and brain function, has a positive effect on memory, learning capacity and attention span, and supports a healthy nervous system and a stable mood. Vitamins B6 and B12, in particular, play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked to improving memory, lifting mood and regulating sleep.
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life.
  3. Eat more blueberries! Their active antioxidants have been shown to protect and restore brain function. One recent study revealed that feeding blueberry extracts to mature mice partially reversed some signs of brain aging.
  4. Avoid alcohol. People who drink too much alcohol often show shrinkage or atrophy of the cerebral cortex, the seat of memory, learning, reasoning, intelligence, and emotions. Reduced cortical thickness in abstinent alcoholics and association with alcoholic behavior
  5. Avoid smoking. Smoking constricts blood vessels, making less blood, oxygen, and nutrients available to the brain. It also replaces oxygen with carbon monoxide, a chemical that damages brain cells.
  6. Incorporate a regular exercise program into your daily routine. An easy way to start is by walking 30 minutes a day at least five times a week. Yoga is wonderful for staving off arthritis pain, maintaining flexibility and for relaxation.
  7. Maintain your social connections. Loneliness can actually lead to health problems and mental decline. Join a group—any kind of group: worship,  hiking, scrabble, table tennis, knitting, discussion group, or book club. Volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or animal shelter. It’s important to stay connected and to feel as though you are a contributing member of society.
  8. Sleep well by getting to bed before 11:00 pm, eating your last meal before 8pm, turning off your electronic devices, and eliminating light in your bedroom. Studies have indicated that sleep deprivation can increase risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you have trouble sleeping consider using a lavender essential oil spray on your pillow or a sachet of lavender inserted into the pillowcase. There are lots of natural sleep aids available at your local health food store, such as melatonin, calcium/magnesium, valerian, hops, etc. Consult with a nutritional consultant about what might work best for you.

Best of luck with your lifestyle changes and best of health to you and your family.

 

 

 

 

 

Summertime Eating Tips to Help Caregivers Keep Their Cool

Background texture of pink and white rose petals

Rose Petals Make a Delicious Cooling Drink and Jelly

 

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy—or at least we’d like it to be. If you’re tired and stressed out from caregiving, here are some tips to help you stay cooler in summer.

According to the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda our body consists of three main elements or doshas—Vatta, Pitta and Kapha. Pitta consists of water and fire. It’s hot, so during summer when the temperature rises we want to eat cooling foods. Eating cooling foods not only keeps us from overheating, it reduces the tendency to get irritable, impatient and angry.

  • 1) First and foremost, stay hydrated. It’s especially important to make sure you and your loved ones are getting enough liquids because when we forget to drink we can become dehydrated quickly, which leads to other health problems. It’s also crucial to keep the brain hydrated in order to maintain mental alertness. Drink plenty of water and stay away from carbonated and caffeinated drinks. Herbal teas, and fresh fruit or vegetable juices are great in summer. Just remember that fruit juices are high in sugar and calories.
  • 2) Enjoy the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables. The summer fruits such as peaches, apricots, cherries, watermelon, cantaloupe, and berries are especially good for helping the body reduce the fiery heat of summer. According to Ayurveda, some of the recommended summer vegetables include cucumber, green leafy vegetables, green beans, squash, zucchini, asparagus, beets and eggplant.
  • 3) Sprinkle on the herbs and spices. They’re easy to use and contribute added flavor and antioxidants to your diet. Cooling spices include cardamom, coriander, fennel and tumeric. Cooling herbs include cilantro, mint and dill.
  • 4) Avoid hot, sour and salty foods including fermented food, red meat, and greasy and spicy food. Excess pitta aggravates the tendency towards heartburn and gastric hyperacidity.
  • 5) Here’s some good news—Ayurveda recommends ice cream during the hot summer months! So by all means, enjoy! Dementia patients are especially fond of ice cream. If the person you are caring for refuses to eat or eats very little, try serving ice cream. It contains protein, calcium and calories, and it’s easy to serve and eat. If weight gain or cholesterol is a concern, select a dairy-free version of America’s favorite dessert. Rice Cream, Coconut Bliss and Soy Delicious make delicious non-dairy, frozen desserts.
  • 6) My roses are bursting with fragrance and beauty. Roses are especially cooling and ff you have rose bushes that are free of chemicals, here’s a special treat to make: Rose Petal Jam. It’s fun and easy and the person you are caring for might even like to get into the act. It’s also very cooling and pacifies irritability. Spread it on toast, put a teaspoon on top of a scoop of ice or add it to warm milk for a yummy nightcap. (see recipe below)
  • 7) Make a lassi using a tablespoon of rose petal jam. Or use this delicious recipe to make the classic, cooling Indian-style milkshake.

Rose Petal Jam

Ingredients

  • ◦ 1 cup fresh rose petals (must never have been sprayed with any chemicals)
  • ◦ 3/4 cup water
  • ◦ 1 lemon, juice of (1/4 cup)
  • ◦ 2 1/2 cups sugar or evaporated cane juice crystals
  • ◦ 1 package pectin
  • ◦ 3/4 cup water

Directions

  1. Puree rose petals, 3/4 cup water and lemon juice in blender until smooth.
  2. Slowly add sugar.
  3. Blend till all sugar has dissolved; (leave in blender) Stir 1 package pectin into 3/4 cup water, bring to a boil, and boil hard for 1 minute. Pour mixture into blender with rose petal mixture until well blended.
  4. Do this very quickly – it sets up FAST!! Pour into small, sterilized jelly jars.
  5. Let set for 6 hours, till firm.
  6. Will keep one month in refrigerator.
  7. Freezes well.

 

Rose Water Lassi

  • 2 1⁄2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/2-teaspoon fine sugar
  • ¼ tsp of ground cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons pure rosewater
  • 3⁄4 cups Ice water
  • 1 cup Ice cube cracked
  • Fragrant rose petals for garnish

Blend the yogurt, sugar, cardamom, rose water and iced water in a blender for 2 minutes. Add the ice and process for another 2 minutes. Pour the lassi into tall, refrigerated glasses and garnish with rose petals. Chill out and enjoy!