What is the role of cannabis in treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s?

How can the plant help alleviate symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases or dementia? Science has investigated the importance of the endocannabinoid system in this regard, and we will show you more here!

Neurodegenerative diseases are very present around us. As the brain ages, several factors can lead to the development of some form of dementia – from genetics to our own habits. It is not always possible to say what led it to appear, and there is no cure with the treatments currently available, only the relief and a slowing of its symptoms.

It was only a few years ago that scientists started to investigate what the role of our endocannabinoid system – our own cannabinoid receptor – in the development of these disorders. Studies also demonstrate the success of the plant when used as treatment for patients, improving their quality of life in several ways.

This is the fourth content in fhe Medicinal and Therapeutic Cannabis series, we will show you more about these incredible discoveries, which can benefit more than 50 million people worldwide.

Important notice: any possibility of using cannabis as a medicine must be analyzed by a specialist who monitors the history of each patient. This post is not a recommendation for self-medication with cannabis in any way. If you believe it can benefit your condition, talk to your doctor.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia?

Some think Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are similar illnesses. And of course, they have their similarities:

  • Both affect, in most cases, people over 50 years old.
  • Both affect the central nervous system.
  • And both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are neurodegenerative diseases, progressive and without cure.

However, there is a primary difference between the two: while Alzheimer’s is related to the loss of cognitive functions, Parkinson’s affects the individual’s motor functions.

Dementia, on the other hand, is the term used to describe the symptoms of a wide group of diseases that cause a progressive decline in the person’s functioning. People with Alzheimer’s have a type of dementia; while patients who have Parkinson’s will not necessarily develop dementia.

The main symptoms of Alzheimer’s are:

  • Memory loss;
  • Difficulty in planning or solving problems;
  • Difficulty performing family tasks;
  • Loss of sense of time and disorientation;
  • Difficulty perceiving visual images and spatial relationships;
  • Language problems;
  • Changing the place of things;
  • Weak or diminished judgment;
  • Removal from work and social life;
  • Changes in mood and personality.

While in Parkinson’s, the main symptoms are:

  • Involuntary tremors at rest;
  • Muscle stiffness;
  • Slow movement;
  • Slower and slower steps;
  • Loss of facial expressions;
  • Depression;
  • Constant muscle pain;
  • Cold.

All of these conditions are caused by a common reason: the aging (early or not) of brain tissue, which causes the death of neurons and loss of synapses. While in Parkinson’s the most affected are cells that produce a chemical called dopamine, which facilitates the coordination of body muscles and movement, Alzheimer’s causes cortical neuronal loss. In addition, the region most affected is the entorhinal cortex of the medial temporal lobe and the hippocampus – related to, among other things, memories.

Cannabis crop

And what is the relationship of this to the endocannabinoid system?

The endocannabinoid system governs most of the body’s physiological systems, particularly the nervous system, where it helps to bring about the balance that allows individual nerve cells to communicate. It has been shown that, in a way, the endocannabinoid system is disrupted in patients suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

At this point, in the best cases, we have pharmacological options that slow down the degeneration of cells and the functioning of the brain. However, a recent study suggests that microdosing THC, the most well-known active cannabinoid in cannabis, can reverse the brain’s aging process.

In this case, the endocannabinoid system appears to play an important role in changes in brain function as we age, and adding low doses of THC regularly can be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

How cannabis can help effectively

Science continues to investigate in what ways cannabis can effectively help patients with neurodegenerative diseases – but some research has already given clear signs that it is responsible for improvement.

In Parkinson’s disease, symptoms include tremor, muscle stiffness, instability and impaired movement (both slow movement and abrupt stop in the middle of movement). The most effective drug to treat Parkinson’s disease, levodopa (L-Dopa, Larodopa, Dopar), has many drawbacks, so doctors tend to reserve it for patients with functional disabilities. After several years of use, levodopa tends to pass quickly after each dose, so that patients constantly alternate the phases of mobility and disability. Additional side effects include nausea, hallucinations and confusion. The researchers also suspect that while levodopa dramatically improves all the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, its use may accelerate the progression of the disease.

Because they act on the same neurological pathways that Parkinson’s disease interrupts, cannabinoids could, in theory, be useful in treating the disorder. Endocannabinoid receptors exist throughout the nervous system and are documented to influence receptors that affect a wide variety of areas. According to a study, neuroprotective aspects can be induced by exposure to cannabis, which can yield benefits against nigrostriatal degeneration in patients with Parkinson’s disease. In it, it was demonstrated that the plant attenuates the motor and non-motor signs and symptoms of the disease.

In the case of Alzheimer’s, it has been shown that THC and CBD interfere with the production of abnormal toxic matter in patients’ brains. This is very exciting, since synthetic drugs intended for similar purposes have not yet been approved in clinical trials.

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Cannabis flower

Both THC and CBD are known neuroprotective agents, which have the potential to slow (or even interrupt) the degenerative process of cells. With regard to symptoms, THC as a single agent has been shown to be beneficial in Alzheimer’s patients, as it reduces night agitation and improves sleep and appetite. Observing patients in nursing homes in California also found similar benefits.

There are several pharmaceutical products approved to treat memory loss in Alzheimer’s, but they all have mild benefits, and only temporarily. All are designed to increase the amount of acetylcholine, a chemical involved in the transmission of nerve impulses and that runs out in Alzheimer’s patients. Interestingly, alpha-Pinene terpene is able to increase levels of acetylcholine, inhibiting its degradation with fewer side effects than conventional drugs.

But what about that talk about cannabis killing neurons?

Well, this is a great myth created around the plant – yet another advertisement for prohibitionism. The truth is that there are thousands of things that kill our neurons – even alcohol and nicotine, which are neurotoxic. Cannabis has never been identified as an active agent in neuron death. What has been proven is that it affects short-term memory, but does not pose any risk to long-term memory. At least for adult users.

There are surveys of “heavy” and old users, those who have smoked several joints a day for more than 15 years, which have shown that they do a little worse on some tests, especially those on memory and attention. Even so, the differences are slight. Compared to alcohol, the plant has an advantage: drinking too much causes irreparable brain damage and destroys memory.

But there are also factors that help the brain to increase neuroplasticity – its ability to give rise to new healthy neurons – and to stop neural aging.

Evidence suggests that low doses of cannabinoids may help prevent or reverse some of the effects of brain aging, while decreasing inflammation, improving cognition and helping to control chronic pain. If the findings can be replicated in large human studies, we may be closer to finding a treatment for dementia that can stop or reverse symptoms.

But how to get medication in Brazil?

Whatever the disorder is: when there is a desire to have a treatment with cannabis derivatives in a 100% legal manner, it is necessary to apply for authorization. Since 2015, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) has allowed the import of drugs containing cannabinoids, and you can review the process here in this post.

Those who wish can still understand whether self-cultivation is a valid option for their reality. Here on the blog, we’ve talked a lot about reasons for adopting self-cultivation, and we even cleared up doubts about the topic with the lawyers at Rede Reforma. If this alternative sounds better to you, you can contact a trusted attorney and apply for individual Habeas Corpus to protect yourself under the law.

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Cannabis flower

Prevention is still the best medicine

While we have genetic factors involved in the development of Parkinson’s and / or Alzheimer’s, promoting healthier habits is one of the main ways to keep the brain functioning well – and to prevent premature aging.

  • A more balanced diet, rich in antioxidants, can be a great way for those who have cases of degenerative diseases in the family.
  • A physical exercise routine also helps with proper brain function.
  • Discovering new hobbies is one of the best ways to strengthen neural networks and connections. Always be ready to experiment!
  • If you experience one or more symptoms, see a trusted neurologist or doctor.

Interesting how many believed that cannabis caused great memory losses, but in fact it is a great tool for your protection – just be used with awareness and caution. This is one of the biggest problems with prohibitionism: we end up with little quality information, difficulties in research and no type of quality control over what is offered to the citizen. Unless, of course, you have enough money to import medications.

But we are here for exactly that: to be a source of information, with concrete scientific data and the biggest news in research. It is the first step for the discussion of regulation to be more inclusive and democratic!

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2 years ago

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